At a time when it didn’t seem so naïve to claim that you wanted world peace, Albert Kahn was a tireless promoter of this philanthropic ideal. He believed in getting to know ‘the other’, seeing it as the cement of a harmonious and tolerant humanity. The rich patron, having travelled the world just before turning 30, decided to create a scholarship to allow groups of young people to go ‘around the world’, and to instigate an enormous documentary census, consisting of many thousands of colour photographs: the ‘Archives of the Planet’. Even if it lacks inspiration and is a little unvarying, the exhibition ‘A la recherché d’Albert Kahn’, put on in advance of the museum’s renovation in 2015, manages to get across this passionate quest for knowledge, by someone who was a friend of Bergson and an admirer of Rodin. A quest that, in the end, finds its best expression in the famous gardens of the Kahn museum, an improbable island of greenery hidden in the middle of central Boulogne.
Albert Kahn bought the Boulogne property in 1895 and slowly bought up his neighbours’ lands to the point where, in 1910, he owned an immense plot of nearly four hectares. In the shady avenues, away from the tumult of the city, lie landscapes and plants from all over the world. Japanese compositions, English greenery, Moroccan cedars, Colorado blue spruces or the Vosgienne forest that would have reminded Kahn of his childhood; they all make up an idyllic wander through a magical series of gardens.