Albert Kahn was a French banker and philanthropist. He was born Abraham Kahn at Marmoutier, Bas-Rhin, France on 3 March 1860, into a Jewish family, one of 5 children of his parents, Louis and Babette Kahn. He died at Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine, France on 14 November 1940,
In 1879 Kahn became a bank clerk in Paris, but studied for a degree in the evenings. His tutor was Henri Bergson, who remained his friend all his life. He graduated in 1881 and continued to mix in intellectual circles, making friends with Auguste Rodin and Mathurin Méheut. In 1892 Kahn became a principal associate of the Goudchaux Bank, which was regarded as one of most important financial houses of Europe.

In 1893 Kahn acquired a large property in Boulogne-Billancourt, where he established a unique garden containing a variety of garden styles including English, Japanese, a rose garden and a conifer wood. This became a meeting place for French and European intelligentsia until the 1930s when due to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Kahn became bankrupt. At that time the garden was turned into a public park in which Kahn would still take walks. Kahn died during the Nazi occupation of France.

“In 1909 the millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on an ambitious project to create a colour photographic record of, and for, the peoples of the world. As an idealist and an internationalist, Kahn believed that he could use the new autochrome process, the world’s first user-friendly, true-colour photographic system, to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding.

Kahn used his vast fortune to send a group of intrepid photographers to more than fifty countries around the world, often at crucial junctures in their history, when age-old cultures were on the brink of being changed for ever by war and the march of twentieth-century globalisation. They documented in true colour the collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires; the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland, just a few years before they were demolished; and the soldiers of the First World War — in the trenches, and as they cooked their meals and laundered their uniforms behind the lines. They took the earliest-known colour photographs in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States.

At the start of 1929 Kahn was still one of the richest men in Europe. Later that year the Wall Street Crash reduced his financial empire to rubble and in 1931 he was forced to bring his project to an end. Kahn died in 1940. His legacy, still kept at the Musée Albert-Kahn in the grounds of his estate near Paris, is now considered to be the most important collection of early colour photographs in the world.”
(from www.www.albertkahn.co.uk/)

A rare stance of early conceptual art eliminating the author from direct artistic implementation and gives way to the idea of art as sponsoring art. Having the vision and the resources Albert Kahn is a renowned example of having developing a concept based on leading edge technology which was carried out by his assistants or employees, who traveled the world to accomplish his mission. The artistic quality of this work goes far beyond the accomplishments of later distinguished photographers following up and mastering the technique of color photography which got developed since around 1850. As did the early colour photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in the Russian Empire from 1909-1915, Albert Kahn ventured a global effort in documenting his time in colours and aiming on everday social context, may it be war, farmers or kings - without being the artist himself.

“Colour images have changed the way we see the world. The defining moment came when we saw our own blue planet from space – and, indeed, from the moon. That magnificent image now sums up the life we share in our global destiny. But our world had first been shown in colour some time before.” (Gilles Baud-Berthier, Direktor of the Director of the Musée Albert-Kahn)

MUSEUM ALBERT KAHN
www.albertkahn.co.uk

BOOK
www.albertkahn.co.uk/book