Albert Kahn was a man of great wealth and even greater curiosity. At the age of 29 he already owned a bank. A few years earlier, he had moved into a house on the outskirts of Paris, in the municipality of Boulogne-Billancourt. There he acquired and transformed four hectares of land into a series of spellbinding gardens, a green narrative of diverse inspiration, translating into the language of plants, his deeply-ingrained belief in the dialogue of cultures.
His frequent travels opened his mind to faraway societies. He thus discovered Japan of which he wrote, nearly at the end of his life: “My nature has great affinity with Japanese sensibility. I so appreciate their calmness and relaxed way of life”.
The sensorial mosaic that he achieved with the help of Achille Duchêne, the French landscape artist of the turn of the century, is structured around the greenhouse and the French rose garden. From here, and in the direction of any of the cardinal points, are deployed the woodlands, the English garden and the Japanese garden.
In the latter, visitors seem to enter into a seductive state, not unlike meditation: a calm emotion radiates from the pond, carp swim close to the water surface, stepping stones lend a dancing rhythm to those crossing stream and pond, and the weeping beech and cedar seem to act as powerful protectors of the life underneath.
After years of global travelling and sponsoring ambitious projects, such as his photographed tour of the outer corners of the known world, the “Archives of the Planet”, this exceptional benefactor lost his fortune in the crash of 1929. The future of his collections and the gardens were suddenly precarious. The regional government of the Seine repossessed all his assets and allowed him to live in the property until his death in 1940, months before the occupation of Paris by the Nazi troops.
The titanic achievements of this paradoxical man of action and contemplation carry a monumental teaching, a profound faith in the unity of life on earth, human and vegetal, and a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us.