Atget's Bestiary

There are times in our life when we have to stay home. Since Paris cannot be visited for a while, I have tried to make it reachable through another space. The space of my imagination. I have imagined a stroll based on animals, like a game or a bestiary in some way. Paris has then become a large and multiple animal. Always in Atget's footsteps. (March 2020).

"There are times when we are deep in thought. Then, the invisible past has closed in on us. Our life is a journey. Time is slowing down in such cases. The scene is expanding to come into its proper space. The scene is becoming an intense animal."

Secret Life- Pascal Quignard

Bestiary of Paris

Barrel organ player with his wife.
Atget 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)


Between angel and animal, the Bestiary of Paris,
Man is always struggling to find his way,
As random wandering on and all of a sudden stopping …
Tonight,  to whom can he extend his hands ? 

The bearded man will come back … you will hear his organ,
To you he will tell all the countries he visited,
For you he will sing the songs of the night
And you will remember a bygone Paris …   

 Excerpt Bestiary of Paris – Bernard Dimey

A - as Agneau (Lamb)

A l’agneau pascal (The Easter Lamb) Wineshop
11, rue de Valence
Atget – between 1910 and 1911
(Musée Carnavalet)

The Easter Lamb, as a Christian symbol, reminds the sacrifice of Christ … and the wine, the Holy Communion.

As for Pierre Dac, a French humorist, a glass of cheap plonk is to a glass of Mouton-Rothschild what the black sheep is to the Easter Lamb.

The shop is gone and replaced today by the Turgenev Russian Library.  

Fearful is the lion to waken
And dreadful is the Tiger’s tooth
But most awful of all things together taken
Is man in his madness and lack of truth!

Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District 
Ivan Turgenev

A - as Aigle (Eagle)

Eagle of Saint John , section of the Pulpit Church of Saint-Sulpice
(Musée Carnavalet)


True genius, aye like eagle, seeks
The height of the loftiest mountain peaks:
Oh, never his talons defileth he!
His fierce cry hails the awakening day,
His eye to the sun dart back its ray,
Like the lightning in its intensity.

 Odes and Ballads – Victor Hugo 1822

The evangelist, John, is often represented in the symbolic form of an eagle: John who exchanges incessantly with God like the eagle having its eye intensely looking at the sun.

B - as Biche (Doe)

Impasse aux Bœufs (Ox Alley)– rue Valette
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)


This cherubim sings the praises
Of Paradise where, with Angels,
We’ll live once more, dear friends,
When the good God intends.

(The Ox – from the Bestiary – Guillaume Apollinaire)


On the right of the photo, the Collège des Lombard, still visible today. It was one of the colleges for foreign students established in the old University of Paris in 1334.

B - as Bourdon (Bumblebee)

Au Bourdon d’Or
93, rue Saint-Honoré


The name of this old pharmacy is “Bourdon d'Or" . "Bourdon" in French has several meanings; one can be the bumblebee. But, obviously the insect has nothing to do here. It rather means here the pilgrim's staff, the walking stick used by pilgrims to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Either undertaking a religious pilgrimage or just enjoying the experience of a spiritual retreat from modern life, walking the route to Compostela, away from the crowds, in harmony with nature, is indeed a good way to treat ones mental ills, and without any pharmacy prescription...

B - as Bruant (Bunting)

Yard - House of Libéral Bruant
1, rue de la Perle
(Musée Carnavalet)


There is little chance to see a bunting here in Paris, rue de la Perle. This bird rather lives in the country and is protected as endangered species. Of course, there is no link between the bird and the famous architect Libéral Bruant, known for the construction of the Hôtel des Invalides. He also designed a series of mansions, here rue de la Perle, where he lived for several years.

The photo taken by Atget shows the yard of the mansion, cluttered with the activities of a craftsman. Many mansions in Le Marais were used for commercial and industrial activities between mid of 19th to mid 20th.

C - as Caille (Quail)

La Butte aux Cailles
Passage Vandrezanne
Atget – 1900

And I was just picturing
Somewhere on Butte-aux-Cailles
A pale and simple street.

One evening we crossed it
Back from a long walk
There was still some daylight.

 We could feel around us
The feeble bountifulness
Of a beautiful February day.

 The houses? They seemed to be
Old, low, powerless,
Already claimed by the earth.

 But, the street and the curb
Were lying along the sky
As a solemn offering.

(The lovers’voyage – Le Voyage des Amants - Jules Romains)

C - as Canette (Duckling)

Les Canettes
rue des Canettes
Atget 1898-1900



Rue des Canettes (ducklings) is named from a former bas-relief replaced in the 18th century by the current one. As a fine specimen of hand-carved stoned signs, it is listed with the facade as historical monuments since 1975. The sculpture shows four  ducklings  over a pond. 

C - as Centaure (Centaur)

As told by the poet Ovid in the Metamorphoses, the centaur Nessus helped Hercules to carry his wife Dejanira across the river Evene. When Hercules saw from the bank that Nessus was attempting to abduct and abuse her, he deadly shot the Centaur with an arrow.

The marble sculpture by Honoré-Laurent Marqueste, who studied under Paul Falguière, is in the Tuileries Garden since 1892. But it has much detoriated over time. The centaur has lost one leg and Dejanira one arm.

  • The centaur Nessus attempting to abduct Dejanira
    Sculpture by Honoré Marqueste,
    Tuileries Garden
    (Musée Carnavalet)

C - as Cerf (Deer)

Passage du Grand-Cerf
145, rue Saint-Denis
Atget – 1909


Created in 1825 on the site of the hostelry du Grand Cerf, it was the former terminus of the Royal Mail coaches with the Eastern French provinces. With its three floor height, Passage du Grand Cerf (Deer) is the highest passage of Paris. Neglected for a long time, it was finally fully renovated in the 1990s.
It is a beautiful Passage, so whenever in the Montorgueil district, it is definitely worth a stroll along the pretty shops below the high glass ceiling made of metal and wrought iron. 

Here the visit of the Covered Passages ...

C - as Chapon (Capon)

Mansion - Hôtel of the Archbishops of Reims and Châlons
13, rue Chapon
Atget – 1901



Chapon means Capon, this delicious poultry, so much appreciated at Christmas. However, the street does not get its name from this animal. It is just named from an owner who was living there during the 13th century.


The old mansion photographed by Atget was occupied by several craftsmen like an engraver, a photographer and a jeweler. With the disparition of the large commercial signs above the porch, it is now possible to see the smiling faun.  

A startled faun shows his two eyes
And bites the crimson flowers with his white teeth.
Stained and ensanguined like mellow wine
His mouth bursts out in laughter beneath the branches.

Faun’s head – Rimbaud

C - as Chat (Cat)

Au Chat Noir (Black Cat)
32, rue de la Reynie
Atget – 1900


The writer Colette had a longlife love for cats.  They feature frequently in her writings.

"I have lived little of the earthly life, where I was black. Completely black, without a white spot on my chest or a white star on my forehead. I didn't even have those three or four white hairs, that most of black cats have in the hollow of their throat, under the chin. A real black cat with a short, matt and coarse coat, a thin and capricious tail, an oblique eye of verjuice colour. »

Posthumous works - Colette

C - as Cheval (Horse)

Auberge du Cheval Blanc
5, rue Mazet
Atget – mai 1899

My harsh dreams knew the riding of you
My gold-charioted fate will be your lovely car
That for reins will hold tight to frenzy,
My verses, the patterns of all poetry.

The Horse - from the Bestiary – Guillaume Apollinaire

The White Horse Inn (Auberge du Cheval Blanc),  built in 1652 was the point of departure of the stagecoaches to Orleans and Blois. One can imagine the courtyard of the inn: all busy and noisy, with horses, coachmen, travelers with trunks and packages, like in a novel of Alexandre Dumas.
When Atget photographed the crumbling old inn in 1899, the yard was all silent and empty. It was seven years before its demolition in 1906.

C - as Cheval Marin (Seahorse)

The Fountain of the Observatory created by Carpeaux
Atget – 1901/1902

 The Fountain of the Observatory (La Fontaine de l’Observatoire), also called the Fountain of the Four Parts of the World (Fontaine des Quatre Parties du Monde): Europe, Asia, Africa and America, created by Carpeaux.
They are represented by four bronze figures supporting the globe. The seahorses and the turtles of the basin were created by Frémiet who was nephew of Rude, the famous sculptor of Arc de Triomphe.

C - as Chevalier (Sandpiper)

Entrance of the old courtyard of the XVIth century
9, rue Honoré Chevalier
(Musée Carnavalet)

The sandpiper, bird of small shoreline wader, generally lives in swampy or estuary areas. I am not sure that Mister Honoré Chevalier, owner of the land where the street was created would have liked me to call him other names … maybe, he would also have appreciated my little bestiary game. Like the snakes and ladders game, where the board is Paris, although without any snake or chute, but still based on random progression…

C - as Chèvre (Goat)

The car rides of the Luxembourg Gardens pulled by goats were long ago replaced by rides on donkeys, which in turn have been replaced by ponies.

This way for a walk to the Luxembourg Gardens …

  • Goat-cart ride
    Luxembourg Gardens
    Atget – between 1898 and 1901
    (Musée Carnavalet)

C - as Chien (Dog)

Door knocker - Mansion of the Marquis d’Ecquevilly,
60, rue de Turenne
Atget – 1901



Dogs are still guarding the mansion’s door at 60, rue de Turenne. They represent the main activity of the Marquis d’Ecquevilly, one of its former owners, responsible of the royal Hunt under King Louis XV. Unfortunately, today, the door knocker has lost its fine wrought-iron lace that we can see on Atget's photo.

C - as Chimère (Chimera)

Chimera statue
Atget – 1911
Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine

Beneath a broad grey sky, upon a vast and dusty plain devoid of grass, and where not even a nettle or a thistle was to be seen, I met several men who walked bowed down to the ground.
Each one carried upon his back an enormous Chimera as heavy as a sack of flour or coal, or as the equipment of a Roman foot-soldier.
But the monstrous beast was not a dead weight, rather she enveloped and oppressed the men with her powerful and elastic muscles, and clawed with her two vast talons at the breast of her mount. Her fabulous head reposed upon the brow of the man like one of those horrible casques by which ancient warriors hoped to add to the terrors of the enemy.
I questioned one of the men, asking him why they went so. He replied that he knew nothing, neither he nor the others, but that evidently they went somewhere, since they were urged on by an unconquerable desire to walk.

Very curiously, none of the wayfarers seemed to be irritated by the ferocious beast hanging at his neck and cleaving to his back: one had said that he considered it as a part of himself. These grave and weary faces bore witness to no despair. Beneath the splenetic cupola of the heavens, their feet trudging through the dust of an earth as desolate as the sky, they journeyed onwards with the resigned faces of men condemned to hope for ever. So the train passed me and faded into the atmosphere of the horizon at the place where the planet unveils itself to the curiosity of the human eye.
During several moments I obstinately endeavored to comprehend this mystery; but irresistible indifference soon threw herself upon me, nor was I more heavily dejected thereby than they by their crushing Chimeras.

Every man his chimera – Baudelaire

C - as Colombe (Dove)

There is a poem written by Prévert: One morning rue de la Colombe (Un matin rue de la Colombe) for which I have not found any translation … the poem is indeed difficult to translate, because there are many poetic images based on puns. Let me try for some verses...

One morning
From a courtyard, rue de la Colombe or rue des Ursins
Children’s voices
Were singing something like this:

He had angel hair
a goatie
a mermaid tail
a wasp waist
a pair of Louis XIII chair legs
a trunk of poplar tree
a very small head of garlic
and also a bull’s eye
or an eagle eye

One morning rue de la Colombe - Prévert

  • 21, rue de la Colombe
    Atget – 1923
    (Musée Carnavalet)

C - as Coq (Rooster)

Au Coq Hardi
18, quai de la Mégisserie
Atget - 1902


Not so long ago, hens, ducks and roosters could be seen locked up in wire cages along quai de la Mégisserie, like in a city in the country, a market day. One cannot regret the disappearance of the poor animals in the middle of the polluted traffic!  but perhaps that of the vanished sign showing a rooster boldly riding a lion...   Along the quay today, there are still few pets, seeds and plants shops. However, most of the time, these memories of the past are gone, more and more replaced by shops selling  made in China souvenirs.

C - as Coq Héron (Heron)

9, rue du Coq-Héron
Folie Thoinard

In the 18th century, people were coming from all Paris to this mansion, to be treated by Mesmer, a magnetiser. A barrel of water mixed with iron filings was placed in the middle of a room. Around the barrel, the patients were connected to each other with wet ropes and were applying iron rods out of the barrel to their diseased parts.  Mesmer was pretending he could cure the patients by capturing their animal magnetism. He got a lot of success and even one of his patients was the queen Marie-Antoinette !

C - as Coquillage (Shellfish/ Seashell)

Cabaret au « Port Salut » - Shellfish seller
Rue des Fossés Saint-Jacques
Atget – 1903
(Musée Carnavalet)

Each seashell in the walls where we
Made love—our grotto rendezvous—
Has its own special property.

One has our souls’ deep crimson hue
Snatched from our hearts’ blood when I flare
And flame with passion, as do you;

This one affects that look you wear—
Languid and pale—when, listless, spent,
You scold me for my mocking air;

This one would sport the innocent
Curve of your ear; that one, like bud
Of rose, your neck’s: pink, corpulent;

But one there was that fired my blood

The Seashells - Paul Verlaine

C - as Crocodile

"Is the world filled with tigers and crocodiles ? Yes, and remember that two-legged tigers and crocodiles are more dangerous than those that walk on four …"

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

  • Tuileries Garden
    "Tiger striking down a crocodile" - Statue by Auguste Cain
    Atget - 1903

C - as Crustacé (Crustacean)

Crustacean and shellfish merchants in Les Halles

And meantime the tiny black eyes of the shrimps dotted as with beads of jet their soft-toned mass of pink and grey; and spiny crawfish and lobsters striped with black, all still alive, raised a grating sound as they tried to crawl along with their broken claws.

 The Belly of Paris - Emile Zola

C -as Cygne (Swan)

Former Fontaine du Regard (Medicis Fountain). Leda and the swan
Atget - 1910
(Musée Carnavalet)

This fountain, now in the Luxembourg Gardens, was originally installed at the corner of Rue du Regard and Rue Vaugirard. When the rue de Rennes was created, the fountain had to be dismantled and was reassembled at the back of the famous Medicis Fountain. Today, the fountain has dried up, and water no longer flows from the beak of the swan, representing Zeus who changed into this animal to better seduce Leda.

Beside a dry gutter the bird opened his beak,

Restlessly bathed his wings in the dust
And cried, homesick for his fair native lake:
"Rain, when will you fall? Thunder, when will you roll?"

The Swan – Flowers of Evil - Baudelaire

Follow the link to Bestiary - From D to L


Copyright Year 2020 - Martine Combes - text and photos of today Paris