In the late 1920s, Brassaï’s first project in Paris was to photograph the city at night, capitalizing on the mysterious effects of light on nocturnal life. This street urinal with its advertisement for Byrrh aperitif is silhouetted against a dusting of snow, with the tracks of feet and tires as the only evidence that the city is not entirely asleep. Published in Brassaï’s classic book Paris de Nuit (Paris at Night, 1933), this image is one example of his acute understanding of how Paris’s architecture—from historical buildings to humble urinals—represents the complexities and charm of his adopted city as discovered in his nightly meanderings.

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Brassaï (Gyula Halász), French, born Hungary, 1899–1984
Une Vespasienne, Boulevard Auguste Blanqui
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 7/8 × 9 3/16 in. (30.2 × 23.3 cm) Sheet: 12 × 9 1/4 in. (30.5 × 23.5 cm)
Credit Line

Gift of Mike and Mickey Marvins

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number

[Christie's, New York, December 14, 1994, sale 7649, lot 37]; purchased by Michael Marvins and Michele Marvins, Houston, 1994; given to MFAH, 2013.