We took a recommendation and went to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, a private collection by an developer of oil fields in Iraq early in the 20th century.
As befits a devoted art collector, the 6000 pieces he accumulated (his “children” as he called them) reflect his own passions and taste…from ancient Egyptian pieces to Persian art and artefacts like carpets to Chinese ceramics to the old masters of Europe (Van de Weyden, Rubens, Van Dyck, Hals, Rembrandt, a least a dozen Guardi paintings)
and the Impressionists (Manet, Degas, Monet, Sargent). In each room, we found something interesting, beautiful or insightful to engage us. He lived in Lisbon during his last years, so his collection and ultimately the museum ended up there.
That building was developed in the 1960s, functional and spare, perhaps on Japanese models.
But, to us, the most extraordinary element at the museum was outside, the extensive garden surrounding it. That space is beautifully designed with diverse plantings, wandering trails, lawns to relax upon and a pond to gaze at.
Plus an amphitheatre for public performances. Savoring the space along with us were young students using the free wi-fi, office workers relaxing at lunch, the elderly with time to spare, tourists cruising around the maze of walkways. And the gardens were completely free for them to enjoy.
We couldn’t imagine this generous spirit – the dedication of so much space, expense and effort to public enjoyment – elsewhere these days.
After his death in 1956, Gulbenkian’s foundation pursued his passion by initiating a collection of contemporary Portuguese art, thereby fostering the arts and artists.
That’s now displayed in a separate building whose interior feels like a rail station. The museum offers a concert nearly every night, with the highest caliber of music making and extraordinary soloists at moderate prices
It all impressed us. The foundation has ably followed through on Gulbenkian’s will – that its activities benefit “the whole of humanity.”
(Also, for more pictures from Portugal, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the itinerary page.)