In a letter to Monsieur Paul Leon, the Director of Fine Arts at Les Monumentes Historiques, Eugene Atget admits concern for the future of his thousands of negatives after his death. This is an excerpt of the letter he wrote Leon about purchasing the work.
Now that I am approaching old age – that is to say, 70 years – and have neither heir nor successor, I am worried and tormented about the future of this beautiful collection of negatives, which could fall into hands unaware of its import and ultimately disappear, without benefiting anyone. I would be very happy, Monsieur, if you could interest yourself in this collection….I hold at your disposal, Monsieur, and with a simple word from you, my references on Old Paris and all the explanations you might wish to have from me.
It’s hard to imagine today, but Eugene Atget was not acclaimed in his lifetime. He sold his photographs to painters to use as references. It was the championing by Berenice Abbott and the Museum of Modern Art that brought Atget the notice he deserved. Unfortunately, success came after his death. He is now considered a master of photo realism.
*information from the book Photography Speaks by Brooks Johnson, published by Aperture/The Chrysler Museum, 1989