Collections and Collectors

Private Collections and Art Auctions

Throughout the 20th century, many private collections came into existence in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The majority of them were assembled by persons with different origins, different cultural interests and with unique tastes. However, men like Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) and Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955), shared the common quality of having amassed great fortunes, due to their hard work and business talent. Sometimes, they even shared the same art connoisseurs and advisers, which often resulted in them coveting and biding for the same commodity, whether is was a painting, a furniture item or a book.

Many of the artworks that were transactioned in the early decades of the 20th century belonged to private collections. Due to countless reasons, such as the passing away of their respective owners, other art collectors often reacquired these collections in auctions. It was customary for auctions to have printed catalogues containing detailed descriptions of each piece. Thus, it is not odd that so many catalogues are contained in Calouste Gulbenkianís personal library. This important section comprises not only catalogues of other collections, but essentially, those of the pivotal auctions that were held during the years that Calouste Gulbenkian assembled his collection.

This particular section of Calouste Gulbenkianís personal library is considerably important as it allows a more thorough understanding of the collecting policy of many of the artworks that are now on display at the Gulbenkian Museum. In addition, it may also provide precious clues regarding some art objects that Calouste Gulbenkian appreciated and eventually considered buying. One other interesting aspect of this section is the fact that many of the catalogues contain several handwritten notes. In fact, the catalogues of two distinct exhibitions - Loan exhibition of the collection of Sir Harold Wernher and Exhibition of pictures from the Althorp Collection - held in London, respectively in 1946 and 1947, contain detailed notes on nearly every mentioned object. As Calouste Gulbenkian was known to often resort to his advisers in order to be informed about auction sales, it is likely that the calligraphy is from one of the following art experts: Maurice Rheims, Arthur Pope or Kenneth Clark. As far as the catalogue of the auction held in Paris on May 1935 is concerned, the doubt remains, however, as to who is the author of the notes that are inscribed on the porcelain and china parts of the catalogue. However, researchers have not yet discarded the theory that the notes on the Catalogue des objets d’art d’Orient, antiquités, céramiques de Perse... importantes miniatures persanes et indo-persanes, velours de Scutari...composant la collection de Monsieur Emile Tabbagh, may have been handwritten by Calouste Gulbenkian himself.

slideshow previous velocidade: next + close