The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon (the “Gulbenkian”) owes its existence to one man. Calouste Gulbenkian revealed his passion for art at an early age, reflecting his upbringing in Cappadocia and Constantinople, both crossroads of civilizations. Throughout his life, he assembled an eclectic and unique collection that was influenced by his travels and his personal taste. His collection now totals over 6,300 pieces from all over the world and dating from antiquity to the early twentieth century (including examples from ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, Babylonia, Armenia, Persia, Islamic Art, Europe, and Japan). The Paris-based collection was divided for security reasons in the 1930s and part was sent to London. In 1936, the collection of Egyptian art was entrusted to the care of the British Museum while the finest paintings went to the National Gallery. Later, in 1948 and 1950, the same works would be sent on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. As his collection grew, Gulbenkian grew more concerned about how to preserve his achievement. In 1937 he started discussions with Kenneth Clark, who had advised him in assembling his collection, about a “Gulbenkian Institute” at the National Gallery in London. However, during World War II, he was declared an “enemy under the act” by the British Government and they temporarily confiscated his share of the oil from the Iraq Petroleum Company. Although this was a technical legal decision, this action by his adopted country irritated him. Consequently he then considered the National Gallery of Art in Washington as a potential home for his collection and in 1943 began negotiations. At the time of his death in 1955, Gulbenkian does not appear to have decided where he wanted his collection to be housed and finally left it to his British lawyer, Lord Radcliffe to decide. However it was clear that Gulbenkian wanted his collection brought together under one roof where people could appreciate what one man could achieve in his lifetime. After his death, arduous negotiations with the French Government and the National Gallery in Washington ensued. In 1960, the entire collection was brought to Portugal, where it was exhibited at the Palace of the Marquises of Pombal (Oeiras) from 1965 to 1969. Fourteen years after Gulbenkian’s death, his wish was fulfilled, when the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum was opened in Lisbon. The large premises, comprise the museum and headquarters of the Gulbenkian Foundation, and were designed by the Portugese architects Ruy Athouguia, Pedro Cid, and Alberto Pessoa. The museum is located within a landscaped park, at the intersection of Av. de Berna and Av. António Augusto de Aguiar, in Lisbon. Sharing the serene gardens of the Gulbenkian Museum is the Modern Art Center, containing modern and contemporary Portuguese and foreign art displayed on two floors, including works by Paula Rego, Almada Negreiros, Souza Cardoso, and Vieira da Silva. As a cultural center, the Gulbenkian Foundation sponsors plays, films, ballets, and concerts, as well as a rotating exhibition of works by leading modern Portuguese and foreign artists. Visit the museum’s website at … www. http://museu.gulbenkian.pt
The Calouste Gulbenkian Collection comprises some 6,300 pieces of which approximately 1,200 are on display in the museum galleries. The permanent exhibition galleries are distributed in chronological and geographical order and spread over two floors. The collection starts with Egyptian art, which includes a variety of pieces documenting the artistic periods that most marked Egyptian civilization from the Old Empire to the Roman Era. Greco-Roman art is represented by an extraordinary collection of Greek coins and “medallions” which form part of the treasure found at Aboukir, Egypt in 1902, as well as sculptures, ceramics, glass, jewels and gems. The small collection Mesopotamian art includes an outstanding Assyrian low relief from the palace of Assumazirpal. Calouste Gulbenkian’s interest in artistic production from Persia, Turkey, Syria, the Caucasus and India, dating from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, is very much in evidence in the collection of Eastern Islamic art. The numerous objects on display include carpets, fabrics, illuminated manuscripts, book bindings, mosque lamps, painted tiles and ceramics. The Armenian art collection is essentially made up of illuminated parchments from the 16th and 17th centuries and show the great interest the collector had in his Armenian origins. Important items of art from the Far east, include porcelain and hard stone carvings from China, lacquer from Japan and a large collection of Japanese prints. The section of European sculpture includes pieces from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. The delicate image of the ‘Virgin and Child’, attributed to Jean de Liège, who worked for the French king Charles V, dates from the Middle Ages, while the works attributed to Antonio Rosselino and Andrea della Robbia stand out among the Renaissance collection. The same period is also represented by a significant collection of medals that includes a substantial nucleus of work by Pisanello. Eighteenth-century French sculpture includes work by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Pigalle, Caffieri and Houdon, the artist who produced “Diana”, one of the highlights of the collection. The nineteenth-century’s artistic vision of sculpture is emphasized in the Gulbenkian Collection with the inclusion of work by Carpeaux, Barye, Dalou and Rodin. The collection also contains historic books and manuscripts, including a series of Flemish, French, Dutch, English, Italian and German illuminated manuscripts, printed books and bindings dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. The European decorative arts section is introduced by sixteenth-century tapestries from Flanders and Italy. Outstanding 18th century French works include Gobelins, Beauvais and Aubusson tapestries, very fine sets of furniture dating from the time of the Regency, Louis XV and Louis XVI, made by Cressent, Oeben, Riesener, Jacob, Carlin and Sené. Also on display are pieces in silver or gold by the best French craftsmen such as F.-T. Germain, Duran, Lehendrick, Roettiers and Auguste. The collection of works by René Lalique (a personal friend of Gulbekian) is quite exceptional for the quality of the jewelry and other objects, particularly the glass, which, because of its quality and consistency is considered to be quite unique.
The Gulbenkian’s collection of paintings is justifiably world famous, and includes some pieces from the Hermitage collection which were sold off by the Soviets. Covering the fifteenth to early twentieth century, the collection includes significant and well know works by almost every important artist. A dominant theme of the two hundred and twenty-nine paintings acquired and kept by Gulbenkian personally, was portrait and landscape painting, and these genres are given particular preponderance in the exhibition galleries of the museum. The main centers of artistic production from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are represented by the work of such artists as Stefan Lochner (“Presentation in the Temple”), Van der Weyden (“St. Catherine”), Pisanello, Anton Van Dyck (“Portrait of a Man”), Dierick Bouts, Jean-Marc Nattier, Domenico Ghirlandaio (“Portrait of a Girl”), Vittore Carpaccio, Cima de Conegliano, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Frans Hals, Jacob von Ruisdael, Peter Paul Rubens (“Portrait of Hélène Fourment”, “The Love of the Centaurs” and “Flight Into Egypt”), Andrea della Robbia and Rembrandt (“Portrait of an Old Man”, “Pallas Athene” and “Alexander the Great”). Eighteenth-century French painting is in turn represented by the work of Nicolas de Largillière, François Boucher, Hubert Robert, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Lépicié, Nattier and Maurice-Quentin de La Tour. The eighteenth century is also represented by an area devoted to the work of the Venetian painters Francesco Guardi and Canaletto, while another gallery brings together English painters such as Lawrence, George Romney and Thomas Gainsborough. Nineteenth-century English painting is in turn represented by the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. The section of nineteenth-century French painting includes work by Corot, Jean-François Millet, Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Henri Fantin-Latour, as well as that of Édouard Manet, Dégas, Mary Cassatt (“The Stocking”), Renoir (“Portrait of Madame Claude Monet”) and Claude Monet (“The Breakup of the Ice” and “Still life With Melon”) .
The Gulbenkian is currently in-between temporary exhibitions, but on 21st October 2011, “In the Presence of Things. Four Centuries of European Still-Life Painting (Part Two: 1840 – 1955)” will open and remain on view until 8 January 2012. This exhibition follows ‘Part One’ which was presented in 2010 (and looked at European still-life paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). The second part will focus on modern still life in the 19th century and on the fundamental changes which occurred during the first half of the 20th century. A revival of interest in still life among avant garde painters in France will be illustrated through the works of the Realists and the new stylistic language of Impressionism. A centerpiece of this part of the show will be the museum’s own Still-life with Melon by Claude Monet. At the end of the 19th century still life was particularly appealing to Post-Impressionist painters like Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, who will be represented by a number of key loans. The exhibition will show the transformation of the genre into a vehicle for ever more radical pictorial experimentation in the work of Picasso, Braque and Matisse. Still-life will be shown to have allowed artists to engage and critique contemporary society. It was also overlaid with the new realities of the subjective experience in the work of Magritte and Dalí. The fragmentation and reinvention of the very category of still life will be explored through sculptures and artists’ use of actual objects as works of art. This is the proposed journey of still-life painting in Western Art through different ages and geographical places, illustrated with major works by painters who have treated this artistic genre. Still life was the pretext for painters’ explorations, and it is the source of fascination to many museum visitors.