Collections and Collectors

Museums Worldwide

In order to deepen his knowledge in what he called “art studies”, Calouste Gulbenkian would visit museums every time he traveled. Thus, besides visiting the most remarkable monuments, like cathedrals, churches and palaces, the prettiest gardens and parks, and the most famous restaurants and antique shops, he would always find time to visit the main museums of each country. In fact, Calouste Gulbenkian would even set aside several days for this activity, allowing himself sufficient time to peacefully contemplate and study the masterpieces of the artists that he so much admired. Calouste Gulbenkian’s traveling diaries are a faithful testimony of these habits as they contain countless thoughts and opinions concerning some of his journey destinations. For instance, they contain impressions of his trip to Spain, on March 1928, to Italy, on the autumn of the following year, to Munich, on June 1933 and Vienna, on the autumn of the same year.

Within Calouste Gulbenkian’s personal library, one can also find faithful testimonies of the Collector’s sharp, knowledgeable eye. Handwritten on several museum and art gallery guides are numerous personal notes and various remarks, including the dates when he last saw the pieces. For example, when Calouste Gulbenkian visited the Alte Pinakothek of Munich, on June 10, 1933, he clearly marked and highlighted two artworks from the Illustrated catalogue : Old Pinakothek, the “Sacrifice of Isaac”, painted by Rembrandt in 1636, and Rubens’ portrait of “Helena Fourment with her little son”. In addition, the Catalogo della R. Pinacoteca di Brera, which Calouste Gulbenkian acquired on his visit in 1929, contains peculiar notes concerning several displayed artworks from painters such as Tintoretto, Andrea Mantegna or Piero della Francesca. Moreover, when Calouste Gulbenkian visited the Museum of San Marco, in Florence, and contemplated “The Annunciation” that Fra Angelico had painted in the walls of what was once a monk cell, he could not help noting down his emotion. Next to the painting’s reproduction inside the Vedute ed opere d’arte catalogue, he wrote the word: “Superbe”.

Calouste Gulbenkian’s strong passionate relationship with museums is further expressed by the amount of other museum catalogues that the Collector’s personal library holds. As far as British museums are concerned, not only is there the Descriptive and historical catalogue of the pictures in the National Gallery: with biographical notices of the painters, published in 1901, but also the Catalogue of the National Gallery of Scotland. Although both the catalogues enclose handwritten notes, the latter contains specific comments regarding some of Calouste Gulbenkian’s favorite painters. Among the catalogues of French museums, there are several concerning the Islamic art collection of the Louvre Museum. Les chefs-d’oeuvre du Musée Royal d’Amsterdam, an edition “de lux en photogravures” which was published in 1893, is a Dutch catalogue also included in the collection. There are even catalogues of Russian museums, namely the 3rd edition of 1891 of the Catalogue de la Galerie des tableaux and Les chefs-d’oeuvre de la Galerie des tableaux de l’Ermitage à Petrograd, published in 1923. Both publications belonged to The State Hermitage Museum, from which Calouste Gulbenkian acquired some artworks.

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