The preoccupation with the past exhibited in Proust's and Atget’s work in their respective creative fields can seem to verge on brooding.
Far exceeding the merely documentary function of architectural survey photography its dryly topographic title would suggest, Rue de Bretonvilliers conveys the melancholic aspect of Atget’s envisioned Vieux Paris. Taken from under the shelter of an arch during the calm of a storm, the photograph evokes the uncanny lull of the island on which the street is located, its quiet atmosphere paradoxical given its location near the geographical center of Paris.
Rather than simply empty, the scene seems eerily evacuated, as it is littered with traces of former presence and activity. The unattended horse-drawn cart–a forsaken remainder of an increasingly obsolescent mode of transportation–underscores this sense of abandonment.
Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue de Bretonvilliers, Île Saint-Louis, Paris, 1924
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert W. Pratt, P1970.30.A