The Gulbenkian, as it’s popularly known, is Lisbon’s premier art museum. The museum is named after an Armenian oil entrepreneur active in the early 20th century. After making his fortune trading in oil in Turkey, Iran and elsewhere he began to gather an art collection comprised of a wide variety of styles. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Asian and European art all found their way into his rooms.
Later in life he turned his attentions to his beloved Lisbon. The city benefited in several ways, not least of which is the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Though not among the world’s largest museums, the quality of the works on display is second to none.
In the Egyptian collection resides a famed gold mummy mask that would be the envy of the Metropolitan in New York, itself housing an outstanding wing of ancient artifacts. A well-preserved bowl from 4,000 BC is only one more of the many ancient treasures on display.
Not far away are Greek and Roman coins, statuary and other objects from the ancient world. Even the Getty, with its world famous collection in this category, would give an admiring nod to the Gulbenkian.
Following the chronological order of the displays is simple and leads the visitor gradually into the later eras. The 18th century works are particularly outstanding. Views of Venice from the period by Francesco Guardi compete well with his more famous fellow countryman, Canaletto.
Paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens dot the walls. The Dutch master’s Portrait of an Old Man is as exquisite as any one could see in the galleries of Washington, D.C. or the Rijksmuseum. The Pallas Athene provides a different look into a variety that Rembrandt is not often given credit for. Ruben’s Portrait of Helen Fourment is not to be missed by any fans of this artist. Further on there are several works by Monet and Renoir.
Besides paintings there are several other forms of art at the Gulbenkian. The Diana by Houdon is among his best works. Rodin’s Blessings is housed here. Then there are the delightful samples of French furniture that rival those found in the Louvre. The Italian and Spanish ceramics that sit on top are equally impressive.
Moving still later toward the modern era there are numerous textiles from the 19th century and beyond. The Art Nouveau jewelry nearby is not only lovely, but are excellent representatives of the style and the era. The Lalique glassware and jewelry, given to Gulbenkian by the artist who was a personal friend, are among the best examples to be found anywhere. Not least is his Dragonfly, which adorns many a book cover.
The exterior of the museum offers gardens that are both beautiful and relaxing, especially in the warm Lisbon air that hints of the sea nearby. To get an overall view of the gardens from above, the cafe balcony provides the best spot.
When Lisbon became Gulbenkian’s home during World War II it was set to become the fortunate recipient of one of the world’s finest small collections of art. You can reach the Gulbenkian museum via the convenient metro, where you’ll exit at the S. Sebastião or Praça de Espanha Stations.