After six years of work, the Albert-Kahn Museum in Boulogne Billancourt (France) has just reopened its doors in a new building designed specifically to showcase the Archives of the Planet, the formidable collection of images assembled by the banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn.
Faithful to the mission that Albert Kahn had set himself, the museum is, with its rich garden, a place of education in images, plants and living things that invites us to better understand the world around us.
Who was Albert Kahn? What is the Archives of the Planet? And what can you see in the Albert Kahn Museum? Let’s discover this museum!
Who was Albert Kahn?
Banker and philanthropist, Albert Kahn was born in 1860 in the Bas-Rhin in a modest family of shopkeepers. At the age of 16, he went to Paris and was recruited as a clerk in the Goudchaux brothers’ bank, where he gradually climbed the ladder until he became a partner. At the age of 38, his judicious investments enabled him to make a fortune and create his own bank.
However, success in business was not an “ideal” for Albert Kahn, who went back to school in the 1880s and embarked on a philanthropic project. Albert Kahn campaigned for the rapprochement of peoples and wanted to give people the means to know each other better. He created several foundations, campaigned for the decompartmentalization of disciplines, financed travel grants around the world, and provided assistance to civilian victims of war…
However, the stock market crash of 1929 led to his ruin and brought his work to a halt. He died in 1940 after selling his property and all his image collections to the Department of the Seine.
The Archives of the Planet: a poignant visual record of the world
Marked by his numerous business trips around the world, Albert Kahn had the crazy project of making a census of the world and “fixing once and for all aspects, practices and modes of human activity whose fatal disappearance was only a matter of time”.
From 1909 to 1931, he financed a vast visual inventory project of the world and sent a dozen operators to fifty countries, equipped with the new technologies of photography and filmography. In total, some 100 hours of film, 4,000 black and white stereoscopies and 72,000 autochromes were produced during these trips, making it the largest collection of its kind in the world.
Collections to be discovered online
The extensive digitisation work carried out in preparation for the reopening of the museum is also reflected in a new online space where Internet users from around the world can consult the images collected by Albert Kahn and his teams. This content is available as open data and can be freely reused by anyone.
The Albert Kahn Museum: a journey through the world and through time
It is this impressive heritage that the Albert Kahn Museum invites you to come and discover and it is difficult not to be moved, or at least touched, by this incredible quantity of films and photographs from times gone by.
As you walk through the impressive wall that gathers a sample of the Archives of the Planet, you will be surprised to (re)discover well-known places, some of them close to us and linked to our personal history or others that are part of the heritage of humanity such as the Versailles Palace, the Parthenon in Athens or the Cathedral Mosque of Cordoba. This collection also bears witness to the turbulence of the last century, such as the general mobilisation of 1914, the destruction of the war and the demobilisation.
So much so that visiting the Albert Kahn Museum is like opening a history book as well as a personal photo album, since each person will find images that echo his or her own sensitivity.
A museum brought up to date
Those who remember the old version of the museum will discover here an establishment that has nothing to do with it! After several years of work, a brand new place, with a beautiful scenography and interactive and easily usable mediation devices, is now available to the public.
With the architecture of the new building designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates, the Albert Kahn Museum is completely open to the garden, which is now an integral part of the visit, thanks in particular to the “Engawa”, a space halfway between the interior and the exterior inspired by Japanese architecture.
The garden: a plant museum
The remarkable garden can be considered as a real plant museum. Indeed, when Albert Kahn bought his private mansion in Boulogne-Billancourt in 1895, he gradually acquired twenty or so plots of land over 4 hectares to create, with his head gardener Louis-Picart, a testimony to the horticultural art of the 20th century.
It is thus a park with scenes bringing together several types of gardens:
- a Vosges forest evoking Albert Kahn’s native landscape
- a Japanese village with traditional houses bought by Albert Kahn during his trips to Japan
- an English garden
- a French garden
- a blue forest with its marsh
- an orchard-rosery
- a golden forest
In the middle of these gardens, two buildings invite you to go behind the scenes of the Archives de la Planète: the Salle des plaques presents the original furniture where the boxes containing the autochromes were kept, while the Fabrique des images will show you what equipment was used at the time to take the photographs.
Temporary exhibitions for a contemporary look at the collections
One of the objectives of this “new version” of the Albert Kahn Museum is to teach us to look at the world today and to cross the views. Temporary exhibitions will therefore complement the permanent tour by comparing photographs from the collection with contemporary works.
The inaugural exhibition “Around the World: The Crossing of Images, from Albert Kahn to Curiosity” revisits the voyage around the world made by the philanthropic banker accompanied by a photographic operator to capture images of their discoveries, which will be the inaugural voyage of the Archives of the Planet. In parallel, the exhibition presents various representations of travel from the early 20th century to the present day.
A special focus on young visitors
As its director Nathalie Doury explains, the Albert Kahn Museum is a place of “image education through images” and offers several workshops for young people as well as visits at a child’s level.
Families can also take advantage of the Family Room, a free space where they can explore the collections in a fun way.
Albert Kahn museum
2 rue du Port
92100 Boulogne-Billancourt (France)
Every day except Monday
from 11am to 6pm (October to March)
from 11am to 7pm (April to September)
Full price: €8
Reduced rate: €5 (large families)
Free for under 26s, jobseekers, disabled visitors
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Article produced in partnership with the Albert-Kahn museum