The Gulbenkian museum is described as Portugal’s only truly world-class museum. It was built in 1969 to house the extensive collection of Armenian oil financier Calouste Gulbenkian (b. Istanbul 1869, lived London & Paris, d. Lisbon 1955). Gulbenkian collected antiquities and art from Ancient Egyptian artefacts up to early 20th century Art Nouveau . They were originally housed in his elegant Parisian townhouse but were bequeathed to Portugal, where he spent the last years of his life. The museum building was built outside of Lisbon city centre, on land which had formerly hosted a funfair. It was designed by a young team of Portuguese architects, landscape architects and interior designers, supported by international advisors, including museography experts. Parallels can be seen with the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin designed by Mies van der Rohe. An external view (rear) showing the café terrace and part of gardens is seen above.
I concentrated my visit in this building specifically designed for the founder’s collection. The Modern Collection gallery next door showcases contemporary Portuguese art which the Foundation has collected since Gulbenkian’s death.
The artefacts are arranged chronologically, covering each area of the founder’s interests, and throughout, the artefacts are of stunning quality. It starts with antiquity (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia). Gulbenkian acquired some Ancient Egyptian items directly from Howard Carter, and consulted Flinders Petrie on auction acquisitions. The most famous piece is an exquisitely carved small obsidian head of Senwosret III ( Middle Kingdom, c. 2860 BCE).
The Greek coin collection is considered to be the largest ever in private hands, and the condition of the gold and silver coins is pristine!
There is a large Islamic collection with items from the 12th to 18th century: beautiful carpets and ceramics, especially tile work, such as this chimney cover.
This is followed by a small collection of Armenian art, and a Chinese and Japanese collection (mainly porcelain, jade and lacquer work). The main thrust of the European collection is painting from the 15th to 20th century (Rubens, Rembrandt, Fragonard, Guardi, Turner, Degas, Renoir…), as well as sculpture (including Rodin) and furniture (this section was closed during my visit).
Of particular note is the René Lalique gallery (Art Nouveau glass & jewellery), with exquisite examples of Lalique’s work. Lalique (1860-1945) was a personal friend of Gulbenkian, who acquired 175 pieces of the artist’s work, including 82 pieces of jewellery.
This is a stunning museum, with lots to see in a wonderful setting, and well worth the visit.
Opening times: 10:00 – 18:00; closed on Tuesdays
Ticket prices for 2022: All-inclusive starts at 11.5€; museum only 10€; 50% discount for under 30s and over 65s
Address: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Av. De Berna 45A, 1067-001 Lisbon
Metros: S. Sebastião, or Praça de Espanha
Buses: 713, 716, 726, 742, 746, 756
There is an excellent museum shop, a café with terrace, and lovely gardens to enjoy.
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I was born in London, and studied French & German at Bristol University, before taking a Masters and PhD in linguistics at Reading University. During my professional career, I taught and published research on French, linguistics and English language at various universities, including Wolverhampton, Swansea and Queens Belfast. I have lived in Swansea since 1994.
I have always been a keen traveller and museum visitor, and since retiring early, I have volunteered at the Egypt Centre Swansea (from April 2014), where I am a gallery supervisor. I specialise in giving tours to adult visitors. During this time I have carried out research on the languages and writing systems used in Ancient Egypt, on various objects in our collection, as well as the history of collecting, and the use of Ancient Egyptian themes in literature (especially Dylan Thomas) and architecture.
I have published articles on these themes in the Egypt Centre Volunteer Newsletter (of which I am now associate editor) and in Inscriptions, the newsletter of the Friends of the Egypt Centre (see http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk). I also contribute book and museum reviews. I have given Egyptian themed talks to the Swansea Historical Association, Swansea University Egyptology research group, the Friends of the Egypt Centre, Egypt Centre volunteers and visitors, Norwich U3A, and other local associations.