All about Museu Calouste in Lisbon

Scroll down for ticket prices & how to get there

Vising Lisbon should be on every tourist’s wish list! Seriously, this city is full of history, culture and diversities that it really makes it one of the best destinations for tourism in the world. In the Portuguese capital not only its gastronomy stands out but also its diversity of museums that contain great events, cultures, statues and facts that happened in Lisbon during so many past years.

Gulbenkian in Lisbon

Gulbenkian in Lisbon, sourced from their site

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is one of the most modern and spacious in the city, that keeps great fragments of the history of Lisbon.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian is one of the few museums in Portugal that has been able to distribute both ancient and modern art. This museum was founded thanks to the great work done by Calouste Gulbenkian traveling the country and the world to obtain each of the pieces that are in the place, for more than 80 years. This collector died in 1955 and his last wish was to keep his museum alive.

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian was an Armenian tycoon, born in Istanbul, who spent much of his life collecting art. Finally, it was in 1955 when he died and left his great Art Collection to the State. The total collection is 6000 pieces, which is currently exhibited in the museum’s galleries. The works are divided into several types of arts: Egyptian art, Greco-Roman art, Mesopotamian art, Eastern Islamic art;

Gulbenkian museum in Lisbon

Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, sourced from wikimedia

Armenian art, art from the Far East, sculpture, book art, paintings, decorative arts and the work of René Lalique. Among the collections of paintings are works by different artists such as Van der Weyden, Rubens, Rembrandt, Turner, Renoir, Degas, etc.. You can also see different sculptures, but one of the most popular is the famous “Diana” by Houdon, which belonged to the Russian Empress Catherine II.  

René Lalique’s works in the museum are considered ones of the most exclusive because the magnate Gulbenkian was able to obtain them directly from him, guaranteeing their quality and genuineness.

Today the museum is part of a large complex that includes the main building of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, an Art Library, concert and conference auditoriums, shops and a cafeteria. This innovative complex was awarded the Valmor Architecture Prize in 1975 and was subsequently named a National Monument in 2010. Another area of the complex is the Gulbenkian Park, a privileged place where you can appreciate nature. There is also the Modern Art Centre and an open-air auditorium.

Collection at Gulbenkian Museum 

The Armenian tycoon’s collection is housed in a building whose architectural design was drawn up by architects Pedro Cid, Jervis d’Athouguia and Alberto Pessoa in 1969. They were the protagonists of designing and constructing the great building that currently houses the 6000 pieces assembled by Gulbenkian. This building is located in the northern part of the garden. The different galleries are divided into groups of a thousand pieces that are then subdivided into the different groups of arts mentioned above.  

gulbenkian-museum

Gulbenkian Museum, sourced from wikimedia

Calouste Gulbenkian was an art enthusiast who was always looking for the best pieces, those that can be defined as the best. However, this task was not done by Gulbenkian alone, but he also had an intermediary, bought the collections from public and private owners, and even at auctions. Calouste was surrounded by people he trusted and who advised him in his search for art.

However, not everything was for him alone. The tycoon also demonstrated his interest in enriching public collections and contributed greatly with financial support and donated pieces to various cultural institutions, including the Louvre in Paris, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the National Museum of Antique Art in Lisbon.

By 1938, having already most of the collection, Gulbenkian showed interest in creating an institution in London, next to the National Gallery, which would house his entire collection. From “simple” works to some of the largest in the collection he lent to the National Gallery, and other antiques of Egyptian art at the British Museum.

During World War II, not much could be done to keep the buildings and art collections safe. By 1947, however, the damage caused by the German bombing of the National Gallery had been restored. Sir Philip Hendy became the new director of the site and obtained permission to exhibit the works that Gulbenkian lent in 1938. 

After several years, Calouste Gulbenkian decided what he would do with his collection, which specified that all of his works of art should arrive in Lisbon, and asked that the museum be built to protect the collection and exhibit it. The magnate expressed his will two years before his death. What was once to be done in London and planned in Washington ended up becoming one of the largest projects in Lisbon.

Jardim Calouste Gulbenkian – by João Pimentel Ferreira – Wikimedia Commons

During that time, Gulbenkian had to negotiate with the governments of the countries where his works were located, especially with the French government that housed most of the most prized works and in royal palaces. 

Finally, Calouste Gulbenkian was able to gather for the first time in the same place the 6,440 objects for which he fought so hard and toured those countries. Months later, some of the items in the collection were exhibited to the Portuguese public in different exhibitions during the 1960s.

With the death of the Armenian magnate, it was in 1965 when they commemorated the tenth anniversary of Gulbenkian’s death by exhibiting 300 objects from their collection permanently to the public. However, it was not until 1969 that the entire collection of those works could be grouped together in the same building, the current Calouste Museum.

The Construction

The entire Gulbenkian complex project was the result of very close competition between three groups of architects during the years 1959-1960.

The design of the new building had to have certain demanding and detailed specifications that reflected Calouste Gulbenkian’s memory and represented his qualities, his creative strength, his concentrated spirituality and the simplicity of his life.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – by Julien Chatelain – Wikimedia Commons

In order to carry out the project, all possible facilities necessary to contain museums, auditoriums, libraries, administrative and technical services of the foundation had to be considered. This construction was decided to be carried out in the Park of Santa Gertrudis in Palhavã de Lisboa, where it is currently located.

Of the three proposals presented by the teams of designers and architects, there was only one that really took into account all the aspects and requirements to build a building worthy of its environment. The team chosen was made up of Ruy Jervis d’Athouguia, Pedro Cid and Alberto Pessoa.

The whole of the Gulbenkian complex has different areas joined together in a unique and very attractive way. In the surroundings of the complex you can appreciate a green area with grass, swimming pools and even an outdoor auditorium, designed by the landscape architects Gonçalo Ribeiro and António Viana Barreto. 

The external part of the museum is shaped like a giant parallelepiped, which is made of a mixture of concrete and granite creating a subtle chromatic balance. The entire design is based on each of the works of art collected by Calouste. On the ground floor, there is a temporary exhibition hall, an auditorium, a museum shop, a cafeteria, and the Art Library.

A characteristic that often attracts much public attention is the large and numerous windows that provide a beautiful view of nature so that visitors can admire the art and feel in a completely natural environment.

The design of the building developed by a group of architects has a modern style based on the latest trends in architecture. In fact, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was awarded the Valmor Prize for Architecture in 1975. In addition, several decades later, in 2010, it was named Portugal’s National Monument.

Exhibition

Gulbenkian museum in Lisbon

Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, sourced from Wikimedia

The exhibitions are distributed in chronological and geographical order creating two independent circuits within a common visit. The only exhibitions that are not always in the same place are temporary exhibitions.

The first part of the first circuit of the museum is where you can appreciate oriental and classic art.

In the second circuit are the European works of art which are subdivided into sections for art books, sculptures, paintings, decorative arts of the eighteenth century, and especially the works of René Lalique. 

In the second circuit, you can distinguish a large number of pieces with artistic tendencies of Europe dating from the eleventh century to works of the mid-twentieth century. First, you can see works and sculptures made in ivory and illuminated manuscript books, followed by a sample of 15 of the paintings and sculptures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The rest of the exhibits are divided into Renaissance works of art brought from Flanders, France, and Italy. There are 18th-century decorative arts which have gold and silver earrings. The paintings and sculptures also have certain characteristics that make them unique. Among the other decorative arts, you can see the group of paintings of the Venetian Francesco Guardi, as well as English paintings of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. And finally, a wonderful collection of jewels and glass works by René Lalique. 

“Founder’s Collection” Rooms

Room 1: Egyptian Art

In the Egyptian art room, you can see Egyptian statues from the late period, the new empire and the Ancient Empire.

Room 2: Greco-Roman Art

On the Greco-Roman side, there are several collections of vessels, coins, glass, sculptures, and jewelry from the Roman Empire.

Room 3: Mesopotamian Art

In-room 3 you can see works from the Assyrian bas-relief of the 9th century BC. 

Room 4: Islam Art 

As the art of Islam, there are vases, dishes, tiles, Persian textiles, Turks and Syrians from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries.

Room 5: Armenian Art

The Armenian art room is one of the small collections that include a 17th century illuminated bible and an evangelist.

Room 6: Art from the Far East

In the Far East room, you can see the different Chinese and Japanese objects from the 12th to the 19th century.

Room 7: Ivory and Miniated books

In this room is where circuit number two begins, with European works of art, with a collection of ivory sculptures. Illuminated manuscripts, printed books and other bookbindings dating back to the 12th and mid 20th centuries.

Room 8: Painting and Sculpture from the 15th to the 17th Centuries

Here you can appreciate different works of art, among paintings and sculptures, by different authors: Dirk Bouts, Rogier Van Der Weyden, Pedro Pablo Rubens, Anton Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Cima da Conegliano, and many more. 

Room 9: Renaissance Art

In the Renaissance room, you can see several works from the period and tapestries by Giulio Romano.

Room 10: 18th-Century French Decorative Arts

In this room are several pieces of French jewelry, sets of furniture and tapestries of the eighteenth century.

Room 11: 18th-Century French Paintings and Sculptures

The paintings and sculptures in this room are by artists such as Hubert Robert, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Pigalle, Caffieri and Houdon.

Room 12: 18th and 19th-Century French Silver

Here you can see the gold and silver pieces of artists such as Antoine-Sébastien Durand and Jacques Roettiers.

Rooms 13, 14 and 15: Paintings and Sculptures

In this room, there are English paintings from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, Italian canvases from the eighteenth century, and French paintings and sculptures from the nineteenth century. Among the works on display are some by Francesco Guardi, Thomas Gainsborough, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Joseph Turner, and others. In addition, there are sculptures by Carpeaux, Barye, Dalou, and Rodin.

Room 16: René Lalique

This last room displays works by René Lalique, where you can appreciate jewels and crystal objects recognized as one of the most relevant in the world.

These are all the rooms that can be found in the museum in which the different types of art from different periods and artists are exhibited. In addition to all this exhibition, on the outside, the garden can be a really attractive and fun space for children.

In it, there are many spaces to run and play, and observe animals such as geese, ducks, and doves. You can also stop by the cafeteria or souvenir shop to hang out and take a souvenir with you.

Practical Information

TICKETS

Entrance to the Compleo is 5 €
If you want to visit all the exhibitions of the Gulbenkian you must buy a 15€ ticket
If you have a Lisbon Card you can get a 20% discount
Free on Sundays

OPENING TIMES

You can find Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian at Avenida Berna 45 (stop at Praça Espanha metro station)
Open 10:00 a.m.  – 06:00 p.m
Closed on Tuesdays

If you come to Lisbon and want to get to know not only Portuguese art and history but also works from all around the world, then this place is perfect to enjoy with your family.

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