It is one of the most important museums in the country, born to house the art collection of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955), the Armenian who settled in Lisbon as a result of World War II, after having lived in London and Paris. A passionate art collector, Gulbenkian assembled over six thousand pieces throughout his life, covering a period ranging from Antiquity to the early twentieth century. According to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which has as its mission “to improve the quality of life of people through the arts, charity, science, and education,” Gulbenkian became so attached to the works he acquired that he ended up considering them “his daughters.” The museum, a project by architects Ruy Jervis d’Athouguia, Pedro Cid, and Alberto Pessoa, was an old desire but ended up opening after his death. Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian died in 1955, at the age of 86, and the museum opened its doors 14 years later, in 1969. Displayed in the museum galleries are about a thousand pieces, distributed among the Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian, Islamic East, Armenian, and Far East art. In Western art, the collection is divided into areas dedicated to painting, sculpture, book art, and eighteenth-century French decorative arts, not to mention the space given to the collection of master jeweler René Lalique.
Van der Weyden, Cima da Conegliano, Peter Paul Rubens, Anton van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Francesco Guardi, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet are some of the artists exhibited in painting, while sculpture includes works by Jean de Liége, Andrea della Robbia, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, and Auguste Rodin, as well as the French eighteenth-century sculpture masterpiece, the marble representation of the goddess Diana, by Jean-Antoine Houdon, which belonged to Catherine the Great and which Gulbenkian acquired from the Hermitage Museum in 1930. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum also includes the Modern Art Center, which currently houses more than ten thousand works of different typologies, including paintings, sculptures, installations, drawings, prints, photographs, films, and videos. The collection, constantly evolving thanks to new acquisitions and donations, focuses on Portuguese modern art from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day and includes names such as Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, Paula Rego, or Maria Helena Vieira da Silva.
It is worth mentioning that the garden of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is unique and worth a visit on its own. Designed in the 1960s by António Viana Barreto and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, it is one of the most iconic gardens in the country and a reference in Portuguese landscape architecture. Full of hidden corners among the vegetation, it is possible to take several paths through stone paths that cross the lake and its streams, an auditorium, and large lawns.
It is also worth paying attention to the Gulbenkian Music program: there are symphonic and staged concerts, opera, recitals, cine-concerts, and chamber music.