Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Old haunts in Lisboa...Gulbenkian again

A most interesting afternoon at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. There is a special exhibition of Almada Negreiros work which I particularly wanted to see and there was still  time to wander around the private collection of Calouste Gulbenkian which I have done many time before but always a delight.
One of the unique features of the museum are the huge glass panels covered with a fine gauze protection giving diffused views of the verdant gardens surrounding the building, quite stunning as a backdrop to the exhibits.
The collection has around 6,000 objects, around 3,000 are on display. Gulbenkian's motto was "only the best" and he certainly searched for the very best examples of art and antiques from the Egyptian dynasties to early 20th century art with some obvious favourite subjects. Every object is gorgeous in its own way and always displayed beautifully.

In the entrance to the museum is a simply superb example of art deco sculpture, Spring: Homage to Jean Goujon  by Janniotit has become an emblem of the wide range of Gulbenkian's interests. It was the stand out exhibit at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris, 1925, which launched a decorative style and artistic movement that would quickly spread throughout the world, Art Deco.  The group consists of three women, Diana the hunter, two nymphs, a faun, various birds. Just fabulous.

Apparently Gulbenkian's favourite sculpture in his collection was the Houdon Diana which he acquired amongst a huge purchase from the Hermitage Museum sale in the early 1930s .This was originally from the collection of Catherine II acquired in 1784.

From the 15th century there is the serene Ghirlandaio Portrait of a young woman wearing a coral necklace.
From the 17th C. two Rembrandts, Pallas Athena and Portrait of an old man, also once owned by Catherine II from the Hermitage collection. 
There are few English artists but a glowing Turner, Quillebeuf, Mouth of the Seine, a Gainsborough, Portrait of Mrs Lowndes-Stone.

The ceramic gallery has a feast of Iznik tile panels from the 16th century and other treasures of Ottoman art.


In his last will Calouste Gulbenkian bequeathed his personal art collection to Portugal.  

In 1956, one year after his death, the Gulbenkian Foundation was created which according to his will, supports the arts, science, education and social welfare. 

The foundation is headquartered in a modern complex set in a lush garden opened in 1969.  It has a library, open air auditorium and two museums: the Gulbenkian Museum and the Modern Art Centre, which opened in 1983.
Most of the  three thousand pieces of art on display at the Gulbenkian Museum were collected by Gulbenkian himself, and reflect his own impeccable and all encompassing taste in  tapestry, carpets, ceramics, jewelry , glassware, paintings, sculpture and furniture.
The first set of rooms are devoted to Egyptian art, Classical art and objects from the Middle and Far East. Greek Vases, Roman jewelry, Assyrian bas-reliefs, Persian tapestries, Chinese porcelain and Japanese paintings.  
Highlights include Egyptian scarabs and sculptures including a delightful bronze of a cat with her kittens, 664-525 BC, she is lying on a sarcophagus designed to store the mummified remains of cats. Cats were commonly portrayed in Egyptian art, especially during the Saite period, which was characterised by numerous images of animals. Cats were devoted to the cult of Bastet, the goddess of fertility and protector of the home, they usually had their ears pierced so that gold earrings could be worn.

The second set of rooms contain European art, with an emphasis on French decorative arts.
Of note are the medieval illuminated books, a collection of 16th and 17th century paintings from Flemish and Italian artists ,English and French artists from the 18th and 19th century, a collection of eighteenth-century French furniture, all ormolou and glowing marquetry  of which Gulbenkian was particularly fond.
A whole room is dedicated to the Art Nouveau jewelry of René Lalique, I loved the bronze serpent looking glass.
Calouste Gulbenkian was born in the Ottoman empire in 1869.
His father Sarkis Gulbenkian was an Armenian oil importer/exporter already heavily involved in the oil industry and owner of several oil fields in the Caucasus, mainly in Bakú. Calouste was sent to London at 18 to study  petroleum engineering at King's College, he graduated and proceeded onto a brilliant career. With his multi cultural background and linguistic abilities he played a major role in making the petroleum reserves of the Middle East available to Western development and is credited with being the first person to exploit Iraqi oil.

In 1928 he obtained the nickname 'Mr. 5%' after he sold his company to four of the largest oil companies in the world in return for five percent of the stocks. Armed with a huge fortune he was able to expand his personal collection of art over the next decades.
He spent much of his life in London and Paris, but during the Second World War he settled in Lisbon, Portugal remained officially neutral during the war, where he lived until his death in 1955.
Throughout his life Gulbenkian collected more than six thousand pieces of art. During the last twenty years he spent much time deciding where his collection would be displayed. He initially planned to hand it over to the
National Gallery in London and later discussions were initiated with the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
No agreement could be reached. After his death in 1955 and the directives of his will the collection was brought to Portugal in 1960, the museum opened in 1969.
Gulbenkian is honored with an impressive statue on the lawns of the garden, it shows him seated in front of a giant falcon, it is based on the photograph of him seated in front of the Horus statue at the Edfu temple in Egypt 1934.

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