With Covid-fatigued Parisians desperate for a ray of sunshine, every square inch of space in Paris’s parks and on the banks of its waterways is occupied when the weather is good, mostly by people who have taken off their masks to enable them to eat or consume alcoholic beverages (in places where the booze has not yet been banned by the police).
For those of us starved for a bit of greenery and fresh air, that situation just doesn’t work, so a couple of weeks ago, two friends and I took the train to the Parc de Seaux, a short (around 25 minutes from the center of Paris) ride on the RER B suburban line.
From the station of the same name (the park is also served by the stations Bourg-la-Reine and La Croix de Berny, the latter being the closest), we enjoyed the walk to the main gate of the park through a leafy neighborhood that is home to a number of handsome modern houses.
Inside the gate, we came upon an entertaining outdoor photography exhibition, a welcome surprise and a spot of culture at a time when all museums in France are closed. “Globe-trotters: Les Opérateurs d’Albert Kahn autour du Monde 1909-1930” (through May 21). In 1909, the banker Albert Kahn did something wonderful: he sent photographers around the world to capture images of cultures everywhere. Even more amazing, many are in color. This show features autochromes by seven “operators” whose works contributed to Kahn’s “Archives of the Planet.”
The show starts with Auguste Léon’s photo (1921) of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in Kahn’s own rose garden in Boulogne, just outside of Paris (Kahn’s fabulous gardens are open to the public and are a must-visit).
A few other images especially captured my attention, among them Roger Dumas’ minimalist photo (1919) of Lake Siljen in Sweden: just water, a man in a canoe and a small building on a pier with some hills in the distance; a view of Istanbul as it looked in 1912 by Stéphane Passet; a portrait of a refugee from the Greco-Turkish War living in a hollowed-out tree in 1923 by Frédéric Gadner; and four cowboys – true dandies of the genre – posing seductively by a rough fence on a ranch in Canada’s Rocky Mountains in 1926, also by Gadner. The captions add historical context, helping to bring life to the images.
A little history of the estate itself: In the 17th century, the Domaine de Sceaux belonged to Louis XIV‘s Minister of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert and was graced with gardens by André Le Nôtre. Colbert’s château, confiscated during the French Revolution and destroyed, was replaced in the 19th century by a brick and stone château, which now houses the Musée du Domaine Départemental de Sceaux, recently renovated to pay homage to the evolving French taste of its owners from the time of Louis XIV to that of Napoléon III with decorative and visual arts. Click here for a virtual visit to this elegant museum.
Back outdoors, the grounds of the estate have retained Le Nôtre’s original layout, with its Grand and Petit Canals and some of the buildings, including the Orangerie, preserved from Colbert’s time. Nature has been well-tamed in most of the park, with geometric gardens and strictly pruned topiary plants. Cherry-blossom time in April is a major event in the park every year, with 150 trees with pink blossoms in the Bosquet Nord and 100 with white flowers in the Bosquet Sud.
Go for the cherry blossoms (they should start blooming next week and continue through the beginning of April this year), and stay for a promenade through the park and a visit to the “Globe-trotters” show.Favorite