Atget’s Trees

A MAN NAMED JEAN Eugène Auguste Atget is born in Bordeaux in 1856. Accounts have it that he was soon orphaned and worked during his early years on ships—in what capacity is not known. We hardly gain a clearer picture of the next stage of his life, that of a traveling actor in what were then called “third roles,” an itinerant, obscure, mediocre form of existence that occupied him well into his forties. By this time, he seems to be living near Paris, to be making some friends among theatrical folk, and to be advancing nowhere in a profession to which neither his gaunt looks nor his gifts, what ever they might be, are suited. It was said by those few who knew him later that he subsisted exclusively on bread, water, and sugar, a diet no one could persuade him to enlarge, though it progressively undermined his health. Some time during the last decade of the century he forms a quiet, enduring

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