For all lovers of greenery and original gardens, this article is for you. The gardens named after their creator, Albert Kahn, in the very early 20th century are one of the jewels of garden landscaping in Paris and its suburbs. They have reopened after almost 30 years of work and adjustments, in the style of the original gardens, which were documented in the exhaustive photograph collection that Albert had created during his lifetime, including over 2,500 photographs of his gardens.
Albert Kahn (1840-1940) was quite a character: both a banker and a philanthropist, and an intrepid voyager, and citizen of the world. He had a humanist and highly sensitive approach to life, travelled a lot, and he developed privileged ties with Japan for business. He was in direct contact with the Imperial family, and he was very close to the ambassador of Japan in Paris. He drew on his varied experiences and influences in trying to create an environment, a series of gardens on his property in Boulogne Billancourt, that would bear universal values, inclusively. He tried to depict Eden-like environments where the soul could be at peace. His garden, which has just now reopened in the western suburb of the city of Paris, is an invitation into a variety of worlds.
Albert was born in 1840 in Alsace. Son of a Jewish merchant family, (his real first name was Abraham), he was in the middle of the Franco-German episode of 1870, becoming German by law, and regaining French citizenship. He then moved to France where he thrived. He became very interested in the Far East through his privileged business contacts with Japan, and spent time in Japan and China, out of which he compiled one the biggest collection of photographic slides of the 1900’s. He called it the “archives of the planet”. Between 1909 and 1931, he accumulated about 72,000 such pictures!
Albert Kahn installed himself in his Paris suburb residence in 1892 and purchased many plots of land surrounding his property up to 1910. He created different sceneries related to his experiences, with a Japanese garden, a French garden and an English garden, not to mention a Vosges mountain range garden. Albert believed deeply that the understanding of the different cultures of this world was a way to further understand the ideal of universal peace. He applied that moto in his very gardens.
The estate itself became property of the Department of the Seine after the financial crisis of 1929, when the Kahn bank went out of business. In 1989-90, the establishment underwent massive readjustments. The gardens have only recently been reopened to the public. However the building of the museum is yet to reopen, and one cannot yet see the better part of the “archives of the earth” collection. Despite that, and for those who wish, the collection of pictures is accessible online, here: http://collections.albert-kahn.hauts-de-seine.fr/.