Albert Kahn Japanese Gardens, Museum and Conservatory in Paris

By Rusty Woodward Gladdish

Conservatory at Albert Kahn Museum. Publicity photo.

Conservatory at Albert Kahn Museum, which is surrounded by outdoor Japanese gardens with pagoda and museum. Publicity photo.

Amongst all the wonderful parks to be found in Paris there is a little-known gem waiting for the discerning traveller at the end of the Boulogne-Billancourt métro. Beloved of gardeners and of those seeking a spiritual oasis, these delightful gardens and photography museum provide a gentle respite from the buzz and dynamism of central Paris.

Garden at Albert Kahn before the Japanese pagoda. Photo by salix.

Garden at Albert Kahn before the Japanese pagoda. Photo by salix.

The gardens and museum were originally created by Albert Kahn, a banker, philanthropist and inveterate world traveller. He believed that having an understanding and respect for other cultures could lead to peaceful co-existence throughout the world. He established his unique gardens in 1898 and continued to develop and design them, pouring the proceeds of his successful ventures into his project until he fell victim to the Wall Street crash during the Great Depression in 1929 and lost everything. The gardens were then taken over by the Prefecture of the Seine but Albert Kahn continued to live in the house and enjoy his gardens until 1940, when he died during the German occupation of France.

During our three-month stay here in Paris we visited this beautiful garden and photography museum several times during the sultry summer months when the pavements of Paris sizzled like steak in a grill pan. We had seen the BBC documentary The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn and felt that this would be the optimum moment  to see it.

Here's a link to a vintage short film that shows Albert Kahn in Paris and the Japanese gardens you can visit today.

Japanese bridge in gardens. Photo by Arno Drucker

Japanese bridge in gardens. Photo by Arno Drucker.

It is a perfect symbol of peace and harmony. In the Japanese garden, on hot summer days the sun filters through the fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo-biloba trees that form a canopy over the sun-dappled paths and offer much-needed shade to the people strolling in the park. We often sat under the giant Linden trees chatting and snacking or merely watching the passersby. There were stressed-out office workers taking their lunch breaks and mothers pushing toddlers in their prams. The elderly sat gazing up at the birds flitting in and out of the branches above, silently leafing through their book of memories.

Albert Kahn pagoda. Photo by Stefi123.

Albert Kahn Japanese garden pagoda. Photo by Stefi123.

It’s a wonderful place for reflection and meditation. Gold, orange and black-speckled koi carp performed a synchronised swim through the waters of the ornamental lake. They flashed under the brightly painted red bridges (echoes of Monet’s gardens in Giverny) and rushed to the edge of the lake, eyes rolling and mouths opening and closing hopefully.

The scent of roses perfumed the air and wafted up from the English and French gardens where the gardeners were busy tending the plants and we thought we were in heaven.

Visitors at the Japanese garden. Photo by atsirou.

Visitors at the Japanese reflection stream and garden. Photo by atsirou.

One rainy afternoon in late August we visited the gardens for the last time before we left for our home in the UK. The great trees were shrouded in a grey mist and dripped mournfully onto the roof of the little museum. Once inside, however, our spirits were lifted by the collections of photographs with the theme of life in Brittany at the end of the 19th century arranged on the walls. Antique cameras and filming equipment were displayed in backlit showcases and huge wall-mounted screens showed archive film of life in Morocco, Algiers and rural France. There were interactive booths where one could sit at a computer and be taken on a digital journey depicting the life and achievements of Albert Kahn. We became completely absorbed in this and quite impervious to time. We were only sorry that we had not been able to visit the gardens during the blossom period from April to the end of May to see the azaleas, but the rose gardens are in full bloom from June until September. However, we felt immensely grateful to Albert Kahn for creating such a tranquil yet intriguing haven.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Albert-Kahn, museum and gardens (le Musée départemental Albert-Kahn)

Tél: 01 55 19 28 00

10-14, rue du Port, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt

Métro: 10, Boulogne – Pont de Saint-Cloud

Bus: 52, 72, 126, 160, 175, 460, 467 (Rhin et Danube stop)

Tram: Line T2, alight at Parc de Saint-Cloud stop.

Entry (2012)  4€ Adults; children free.  Free for all visitors on the first Sunday of every month.

PHOTO CREDITS: Flickr photos published per Creative Commons 3.0 license with photographer credit in captions

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