From the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, France, alongside England, was one of the leading civilizations as far as cultural development is concerned. During these years, Paris became the prime stage for the avant-guard art movements, a city which welcomed Calouste Gulbenkian when he took up residence in 1923. Up until the Nazi occupation, in 1941, Paris was “his” dearest city. Calouste Gulbenkian’s fascination for French art and culture, which probably emerged during his attendance at the Saint Joseph French College and was later reinforced during the years he lived in Marseille, further intensified and increased during his stay in Paris. Many were the ways in which he expressed this emotion: by walking around the city’s streets whilst gazing at the shop windows of the famous fashion designers, by attending the most famous restaurants and by staying at the most renowned hotels of “the city of light”. Above all, he conveyed his love for France by socializing with distinguished prominent persons from the social, intellectual and artistic milieus, namely actress Sarah Bernhardt, poet Saint-John Perse, journalist and lawyer Léon Gambetta, and diplomat Henrí Bérenger.
Calouste Gulbenkian’s fondness for French Culture is also clear considering the collection of works gathered in his personal library, which cover a vast number of authors and subjects related to French history, literature, art and its culture in general. L’Art Romantique and Curiosités Esthétiques, both written by Charles Baudelaire; Salammbô and Un Coeur Simple, by Gustave Flaubert; Théatre Complet, by Jean Racine or Mauprat, by Geoges Sand are but a few publications included in this particular section of Calouste Gulbenkian’s book collection. There are other precious publications, as they convey the cosmopolitan and mundane atmosphere of Paris at the “fin de siécle”. To name just two, one is called Le théatre, a magazine that published its first edition in 1898. It covered theatre related news and contained articles on wardrobes and sets. The other publication, Revue des Quat’Saisons, also a magazine, was published between 1900 and 1901 by the Parisian Societé d’Éditions Littéraires et Artistiques.
Calouste Gulbenkian also showed a special interest in feminine beauty and fashion by frequently purchasing periodicals and monographs on the subject. These included some of the publications that most influenced fashion trends during the first three decades of the 20th century: Trés Parisien, published between 1920 and 1936; Les Modes: Revue Mensuelle Illustrée des Arts Décoratifs Appliqués à la Femme; and Art, Gôut, Beauté: Revue d’Art des Plus Belles Modes de Paris. Apart from these, there are other published titles concerning the feminine realm, such as fashion and love. La Femme et la Mode: Métamorphoses de la Parisienne de 1792 à 1892, Les Modes de Paris: Variations du Gôut et de l’Esthétique de la Femme, 1797-1897, Voyage Autour de sa Chambre and Contes de la Vingtième Année: Bric à Brac de l’Amour, were all written by French author Octave Uzanne, who excellently conveyed the spirit of the belle époque.