Calouste Gulbenkian was not a mere collector of art objects. His love for Art was complemented by a lifetime need of pursuing knowledge. One of the disciplines that he was most devoted to was painting. The immense diversity of artistic expressions, art movements, schools of thought, and painting techniques and materials that characterize the history of Western painting, led Calouste Gulbenkian on a quest to know as much as possible on the subject. Consequently, he managed to assemble the most significant set of books of his personal library in terms of sheer numbers. Within it, there are titles that were considered landmarks in the field, in their time, like La vie artistique This eight-volume book by French author and critic Gustave Geoffroy, published between 1892 and 1903, is a kind of chronicle as it gives an account of the cultural and artistic events that occurred at the turn of the 19th century.
As part of this section, there are also a substantial number of monographs on the work of Calouste Gulbenkian’s favorite painters, some of whose pieces are represented in his art collection. In addition, one can find a vast array of other books like A history of painting in Italy : Umbria, Florence and Siena, from the second to the sixteenth century, which contains several notes that were written in the chapter on the paintings of the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi. Written in two volumes, Le livre des peintres : vie des peintres flamands, hollandais et allemands shows clear marks of an attentive and knowledgeable reading. This section also comprises: Histoire d’Édouard Manet et de son oeuvre, published in 1902; Les deux Lippi, a work on Fra Filippo and Filippino, his son and disciple, which contains visible evidence that Calouste Gulbenkian attentively read it; Eugène Boudin: sa vie et son oeuvre, published in 1900; Rembrandt : a study of his life and work; and even Léonard de Vinci: l’artiste, le penseur, le savant, by Eugène Müntz, conservator of the École des Beaux-Arts’ collections. This last-named book has the peculiarity of only containing marks in the chapter concerning the painting: “The Virgin of the Rooks”.
In order to satisfy his curiosity and deepen his knowledge of Painting, Calouste Gulbenkian broadened his research and gathered other kinds of information related to the field. For instance, he read books on the techniques and materials used by artists, on art conservation-restoration issues, as well as on authorship disputes. As far as these topics are concerned, some of the books that he collected are La peinture: les divers procédés: les maladies des couleurs: les faux tableaux; Guide théorique et pratique de l’amateur de tableaux: études sur les imitateurs et les copistes des maîtres de toutes les écoles, published in 1865, in three volumes; Fakes: a handbook for collectors and students, The pigments and mediums of the old masters, with a special chapter on the microphotographic study of brushwork; L’examen chimique des tableaux, published in 1931; and Manuel de la conservation et de la restauration des peintures. In addition to these titles, there are others books that tackle other related subjects, such as the aesthetics of painting. An example is the work Ruskin on pictures: a collection of criticisms by John Ruskin, one of the most renowned and influential authors of the late 19th century Western aesthetic thought. Besides its intellectual value, the book has the peculiarity of its first volume revolving around the work of Joseph M. William Turner, a painter represented in Calouste Gulbenkian’s art collection.
Some of the books regarding painting were gifts offered by friends and relatives, who knew Calouste Gulbenkian’s wide interest in the subject matter. A typical example is the book called Meesterwerken uit de Verzameling D.G. van Beuningen, which was given by his daughter Rita on the Christmas of 1952. Other works, like Contemporary american painting, raise interesting questions about Gulbenkian’s curiosity and need of pursuing knowledge. Although apparently not within the Collectors’ scope of interests, as can be confirmed by the non-contemporary nature of his art collection, this kind of books still exist in his personal library.