Gul­benkian, Lisbon

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The Calouste Gul­benkian Mu­seum lies in a north­ern sub­urb of Lisbon and is, quite sim­ply, the most stun­ning mu­seum. The col­lec­tion was do­nated by an Ar­me­nian fi­nancier, Calouste Sarkis Gul­benkian on his death in 1955. Born in 1869 in Cap­pado­cia (Turkey), he as­sem­bled an eclec­tic and unique col­lec­tion of over 6000 pieces that re­flected his back­ground and trav­els (raised in England, lived in France and died in Por­tu­gal) with pieces from all over the world and dat­ing from an­tiq­uity un­til the early 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing ex­am­ples from an­cient Egypt, an­cient Greece, Baby­lo­nia, Ar­me­nia, Per­sia, Is­lamic Art, Europe and Ja­pan.

While he was still alive, the col­lec­tion was split be­tween his home in Paris and var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions (for ex­am­ple, the Egyp­tian col­lec­tion was on loan to the Bri­tish Mu­seum). Gul­benkian was also in­ter­ested in en­rich­ing pub­lic col­lec­tions and he con­trib­uted gen­er­ously either fi­nan­cially or by do­nat­ing pieces to cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions such as the Lou­vre in Paris, the Kun­sthis­torisches Mu­seum in Vi­enna and the Museu Na­cional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon.

But he wished to bring his col­lec­tion to­gether at some point and started dis­cus­sions in 1937 with Ken­neth Clark (the then Di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Gallery) about a Gul­benkian In­sti­tute at the Na­tional Gallery in England. How­ever, dur­ing the war he was de­clared an “en­emy un­der the act” by the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment be­cause he had fol­lowed the French Gov­ern­ment to Vichy as a mem­ber of the Per­sian diplo­matic del­e­ga­tion. The Bri­tish con­fis­cated his in­come from the Iraq Petroleum Com­pany and while this was re­turned af­ter the war, it was some­thing he never for­got. He there­fore ini­ti­ated talks with the Na­tional Gallery of Art in Wash­ing­ton, but on his death he spec­i­fied that his works of art should come to Lisbon and a foundation and mu­seum be es­tab­lished to pro­tect and ex­hibit the col­lec­tion.

The col­lec­tion to­day is split into dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods and gen­res for the vis­i­tor. It starts with the ear­li­est pe­riod, an­cient Egypt, with pieces from the Old King­dom through to the Ro­man pe­riod. This is fol­lowed by a Clas­si­cal An­tiq­uity sec­tion, fea­tur­ing ce­ram­ics, glass and sculp­ture with a large col­lec­tion of Greek coins and en­graved gems. Next there is a large room ded­i­cated to the Is­lamic art col­lec­tion which in­cludes car­pets, tiles, tex­tiles, books, glass and ce­ram­ics. There is also a beau­ti­ful sec­tion of il­lus­trated books from the Mid­dle Ages, to­gether with pieces from Ar­me­nia and Far East­ern art.

Mov­ing on there is a sec­ond large area ded­i­cated to Euro­pean art. It starts with 16th cen­tury Flem­ish and Ital­ian ta­pes­tries and fur­ni­ture and in­cludes 18th cen­tury French paint­ing and 19th cen­tury Euro­pean sculp­ture. A sig­nif­i­cant piece in this sec­tion is the statue of Diana by Jean-An­toine

Houdon. This is said to have been a favourite piece of Gul­benkian and it had be­longed to Cather­ine the Great of Rus­sia. Gul­benkian pur­chased it from the Her­mitage Mu­seum in 1930.

The won­der­ful col­lec­tion of 18th and 19th cen­tury paint­ings in­clude Turner, Corot, Manet, Renoir (in­clud­ing a par­tic­u­larly fine Por­trait of Madame Claude Monet), Monet, Burne-Jones, Rem­brandt, Rubens, Van Dyke and Singer Sar­gent. There is also a most beau­ti­ful Rodin sculp­ture, The Bless­ings. A true high­light of the col­lec­tion is saved for last - a room filled with the most ex­quis­ite pieces made by René Lalique. Th­ese in­clude both jew­ellery and ob­jets d’art. Stun­ning pieces in­clude the Dragon­fly Woman, a broach of gold, enamel, moon­stones and di­a­monds and Ser­pents, a gold and enamel pec­toral with nine in­ter­twin­ing ser­pents form­ing a knot at the top of the piece with eight ser­pents hang­ing down in cas­cad­ing form. Gul­benkian pur­chased this late 19th cen­tury piece di­rect from Lalique in 1908. And there are many, many more ab­so­lutely stun­ning pieces. It is worth vis­it­ing the mu­seum just to see this won­der­ful col­lec­tion of Lalique.

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