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November 16, 1999 - February 27, 2000

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian Biography
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Much admired by specialists, but little-known in the United States, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon houses the exceptional collection of artistic treasures that was formed by the late industrialist, philanthropist, and collector Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955). This autumn, while renovations are underway at the Gulbenkian Museum, a dazzling selection of 80 works — including paintings by Rubens, Fragonard, Turner, Manet, and Monet, as well as spectacular Islamic ceramics and glass, Lalique jewelry, Roman medals, ancient Egyptian sculptures, Armenian illuminated manuscripts, sumptuous Persian and Turkish silks, and great examples of French 18th-century silver and furniture — will travel to New York for the first time. On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Only the Best": Masterpieces of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon will offer a rare opportunity to experience the extraordinary range and quality of this celebrated collection.

The exhibition is made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund and The Kossak Family Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by Patti Cadby Birch.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.

An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented: "The Metropolitan is indeed privileged to present this exhibition to American audiences and our international visitors, who may be encountering these treasures from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon for the first time. Spanning cultures, continents, and millennia, the works in the exhibition reveal the varied interests and superb connoisseurship of Calouste Gulbenkian, a truly international figure who collected widely and wisely, amassing an astonishingly eclectic array of consummate masterpieces, ranging from ancient Egyptian sculptures to 16th-century Islamic tilework to splendid paintings by Ghirlandaio, Rubens, Fragonard, and Manet."

Born in Scutari — part of modern-day Istanbul — to Armenian parents, Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) received a European education in France and England. Returning to Turkey in 1887, he became a pioneer in the petroleum business and engineered the creation of the Turkish Petroleum Company shortly before World War I. The five-percent interest which he earned as the negotiatior of the transaction and subsequent redistributions of the company's stocks assured him of a colossal fortune, which he used to assemble one of the finest art collections of the first half of the 20th century. In the 1920s and 1930s, no museum could match his seemingly limitless resources for acquiring works of art. In 1942, Gulbenkian left Paris — his home from the age of 30 — for Lisbon, where he remained for the rest of his life. Upon his death, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was established there in 1956 to support projects worldwide in the fields of art, education, science, health, and social welfare. Built in 1969, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum fulfills Gulbenkian's wish to consolidate and refine the presentation of his collection, which includes some 6,000 works and ranks among the largest ever amassed by a single collector.

More about the exhibition
"Only the Best": Masterpieces of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon will feature many of the most distinguished works from this extraordinary trove. The exhibition title refers to Gulbenkian's stated desire to acquire only those works of supreme aesthetic quality and art-historical significance. Among the highlights of the works on view will be several Egyptian sculptures, such as the bronze Torso of King Petoubastis (23rd Dynasty), which features gleaming gold and copper inlay. Textiles from a variety of cultures and periods include an extraordinary 16th-century silk carpet from Iran, richly colored 16th-century brocaded velvets from Turkey, and an 18th-century French brocaded silk panel from Louis XVI's apartments at Saint-Cloud. Islamic art was an area of particular interest for Gulbenkian, and the exhibition will feature examples in many media, from vivid Iznik ceramic vessels and tiles to illuminated Timurid manuscripts from Shiraz and Herat. An Armenian Illuminated Bible (late 16th-early 17th century) from Constantinople and the Hours of Margaret of Cleves (ca. 1395-1400) are among the other manuscripts in the exhibition. A selection of Chinese ceramics includes the rare Yuan Dynasty Stem Cup (early 14th century) that features intricately carved figures in high relief under a lustrous bluish glaze.

Old Master paintings in the exhibition include Ghirlandaio's Portrait of a Young Woman (ca. 1475) and a double-sided panel of 1445 by Stefan Lochner that depicts The Presentation at the Temple (obverse) and The Stigmatization of Saint Francis (reverse). Among the most renowned works in the collection are Peter Paul Rubens's portrait of a lady thought to represent Hélène FourmentThe Feast of the Ascension in Piazza San Marco (ca. 1770-75), and Jean-Honoré Fragonard's lushly painted Fête at Rambouillet (ca. 1775), a landmark of French rococo painting. Other European painters represented include Nicolas Lancret, Hubert Robert, Sir Thomas Gainsborough, and J.M.W. Turner. Exceptional Impressionist paintings such as Édouard Manet's Boy Blowing Bubbles (1867), Claude Monet's Still Life with Melon (1872), and Edgar Degas's Henri-Michel Lévy (ca. 1878) will also be on view. In addition, the exhibition will feature drawings by Albrecht Dürer and Antoine Watteau, as well as major sculptures by Jean-Antoine Houdon and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.

The magnificent array of decorative arts on view will include a selection of splendid European silver and an 18th-century French regency medal cabinet by Charles Cressent that features masterful inlays of exotic woods and a profusion of gilt bronze mounts in foliate and figurative motifs. A further testament to Calouste Gulbenkian's far-ranging tastes will be the Japanese lacquer writing box and inro, works that are exceptional examples of the myriad applications of this exacting medium. The amazing creations of master jeweler René Lalique will be the focus of the final section of the exhibition, including exquisite gold, diamond, and enamel jewelry, as well as Lalique's original drawings for these one-of-a-kind pieces.

The exhibition is organized by João Castel-Branco Pereira, Director of the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, in cooperation with Katharine Baetjer, Curator, European Paintings, and James David Draper, Henry R. Kravis Curator, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, both of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Only the Best": Masterpieces of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring an introduction by João Castel-Branco Pereira, Director of the Gulbenkian Museum, with entries for each work of art written by Gulbenkian curators Maria Fernanda Passos Leite (textiles), Maria Rosa Figueiredo (European sculpture), Maria Queiroz Ribeiro (Islamic art), Maria Isabel Pereira Coutinho (European decorative arts), Manuela Fidalgo (European drawings, prints, and books), Maria Luisa Sampaio (European paintings), and Mario Hipolito (numismatics). The catalogue will be published by the Metropolitan Museum and will be available in the Museum's bookshops. Distributed by Harry N. Abrams, the catalogue will also be available in bookstores nationwide.

The publication is made possible, in part, by the Roswell L. Gilpatric Fund for Publications.

Educational events
Among the educational events that will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition will be a special concert on Monday, November 15, at 8:00 p.m. featuring the Gulbenkian Choir, under the direction of conductor Michel Corboz. Works by Poulenc, Ravel, Debussy, Melgás, Braga Santos, and D. Scarlatti will be performed. To purchase tickets, please call (212) 570-3949. The Museum will also host a lecture on Sunday, December 12, at 3:00 p.m. by João Castel-Branco Pereira, and will present regularly scheduled gallery talks throughout the run of the exhibition.
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Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian Biography

Armenian oil magnate, art connoisseur and philanthropist Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was born in Istanbul and educated at Kings College in London, where he graduated with distinction from the Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He published an innovative book exploring the use of petrol as a source of energy at the age of 22 and went on to become a pioneer in the development of the oil industry in the Middle East.

As the international oil industry began to prosper at the close of the 19th century, Gulbenkian performed an integral role in the organization of the Royal Dutch-Shell Group and served as a liaison between American and Russian oil industries. He launched the industry in the Persian Gulf and was instrumental in helping the French gain access to oil in the Middle East for the first time. Gulbenkian also was involved in negotiations to divide the shares of the former Turkish Petroleum Company (today Iraq Petroleum Company) into four major oil companies. From this initiative, he retained five percent of the capital, resulting in his nickname "Mr. Five Percent."

Gulbenkian was a knowledgeable and passionate art connoisseur who began collecting antique coins when he was a child. He settled in Paris and by the age of 30 had installed a small private museum in his house. In the 1930s, he loaned his collection of paintings and Egyptian sculptures to the National Gallery in London, and in the 1950s to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where they remained until after his death.

Gulbenkian lived the final years of his life in Portugal, the site of the Foundation and Museum that now bear his name. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was established in 1956 to support projects worldwide in the fields of art, education, science, health, and social welfare. It funds both the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and The José de Azeredo Perdigão Modern Art Centre (CAMJAP), named after the Foundation's first chairman, as well as special initiatives to preserve Portuguese and Armenian heritage worldwide.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, opened in 1969, fulfills Gulbenkian's wish to consolidate his collections and represents one of the largest selections of work ever amassed by a single collector. This extraordinary range of more than 6,000 works includes Egyptian sculpture, Asian ceramics, ancient manuscripts, objects of Syrian glass, French decorative arts and furniture, tapestries and textiles, Lalique jewelry, Greek coins, and the finest examples of paintings by Carpaccio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Degas, among many others.
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Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was established in1956 to fund charitable, artistic, education and scientific projects. Its activities cover not only Portugal, but also the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, the United Kingdom and Ireland, France, areas with Portuguese cultural heritage, and Armenian communities all over the world. The Gulbenkian Foundation is one of the largest foundations in the world, with an endowment of about $2.6 billion and an annual budget of $102 million.

The Foundation's headquarters and the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, both inaugurated in 1969, are located in the 17-acre Calouste Gulbenkian Park in central Lisbon. In 1983, the Modern Art Museum also opened in the park, which includes a permanent sculpture display, an amphitheater and Children's Art Centre.

Arts Initiatives
Funded by the Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum opened thirty years ago to fulfill Gulbenkian's wish to house his entire collection of 6,800 works under one roof. The world-class collection comprises items from as early as 2800 B.C. up to the 20th Century, including Egyptian art, Armenian illuminated manuscripts, rare Lalique jewelry, French furniture and decorative arts, and European Old Master and 19th-century paintings by Rubens, Manet, and Degas, among others. The Museum also houses a comprehensive art library, which is open to the public and specializes in the history of art, as well as Portuguese literature, history, and culture.

With the aim of providing Lisbon with facilities for the research and presentation of modern art, the Gulbenkian Foundation opened the José de Azeredo Perdigão Modern Art Centre (CAMJAP) in the Gulbenkian Park. The Foundation continues to actively acquire works for the Centre's Museum of Modern Art, which focuses on Portuguese contemporary art from 1910 to the present. The international collection includes works by foreign artists who have influenced Portuguese art, an important collection of British art, and works by Armenian artists such as Arshile Gorky. The Centre also houses the Department of Animation, Artistic Creation and Education through Art (ACARTE), which presents and promotes productions by Portuguese artists, from cinema and music to drama and dance to puppetry and literature.

The Foundation's Fine Arts Department supports art projects, including painting, sculpture, video, applied art, and design. It awards grants to institutions and Portuguese and foreign artists in residence in Portugal and has played a decisive role in the emergence of talented new artists and innovative projects. The Department played an integral role in the creation of independent theater in Portugal and the emergence of Portuguese New Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, the Fine Arts Department presents exhibitions, organizes conferences, supports the international promotion of Portuguese art, and funds research projects in such areas as archaeology and patrimony (National Heritage).

The Music Department of the Gulbenkian Foundation organizes performances by its three resident groups - the Gulbenkian Orchestra, the Gulbenkian Choir, and the Gulbenkian Ballet Company - all founded between 1962 and 1965. It provides specialized music training, preserves and presents traditional Portuguese music and provides grants to musicians, choreographers, and organizations. The Department holds an annual Contemporary Music Festival, which includes concerts, conferences, courses, and meetings. Other series are the yearly Ancient Music Festival and the Great Orchestras of the World concerts. The Department also published documents on music and dance, produces records, organizes courses for teachers and graduate students, and commissions special works.

Education Initiatives
In the field of education, the Gulbenkian Foundation has concentrated on supporting projects that contribute towards the general development of both children and adults at emotional, cognitive, and social levels. A Publications Plan was created to facilitate widespread access to Portuguese and foreign books on topic of advanced science, technology and humanities. Other areas of support include special education, pre-school education, cultural youth activities, and science scholarships for college students. The Foundation also runs the Children's Art Centre, which promotes training for education staff, teachers, and parents.

Founded in 1956, the Study Grants Department of the Gulbenkian Foundation continues to award grants to enhance the qualifications and experience of professionals in the fields of science and the humanities, and to enable further training of university teaching staff. Regular support also is provided to young people attending secondary schools and universities. In addition, the Foundation has supported a network of mobile libraries to provide reading facilities, particularly for young people in rural areas since 1958.

Academic journals published by the Gulbenkian Foundation include Colóquio Letras, which is devoted specifically to poetry, fiction and the study of literature; Colóquio Ciências, specializing in science-related matters, from mathematics to astronomy to chemistry; and Colóquio Educação e Sociedade, which concentrates on contemporary issues relating to education and society.

Health and Science Initiatives
The work of the Foundation's Health and Social Welfare Department has been particularly strong in Portugal, where the Foundation funds projects and actions aimed at modernizing medical techniques and social welfare. Areas of support include preventive medicine, diagnosis and prompt treatment of serious disease, the proper installation of relevant medical services, the establishment of medical and surgical techniques, and the supply of state-of-the-art equipment. The Foundation also provides grants to fund children's holiday camps, equipment and furnishings for child-care and handicapped facilities, and day centers and homes for the elderly. The Gulbenkian Foundation supports the promotion of science and scientific research through exhibitions, the publication of books and journals and advanced training. The Foundation also promotes creative programs and incentives advancing scientific research and practice, and presents the Gulbenkian Science Award each year. The Gulbenkian Science Institute (IGC), established in the 1960s, is a sophisticated research facility with a permanent staff of scientists and technical and administrative personnel. Focusing on experimental biology, IGC recently expanded its activities to include fundamental research and training in specific biomedical areas.

International Initiatives
The Foundation's activities abroad are run by the International Department, which works to promote Portuguese culture abroad and to preserve Portuguese heritage throughout the world by offering grants, supporting exhibitions and projects, publishing works, and providing equipment and supplies. The Department also holds an annual study grants competition for foreign students wishing to improve their knowledge of Portuguese history, literature, language, and art.

In Africa, namely the Lusophone African countries, the Foundation's Service of Cooperation for Development has worked with the World Bank and the European Union to develop health and educational initiatives. Among the projects supported by the Foundation are programs to improve local education qualifications and provide school manuals, as well as primary health care and public health campaigns.

The Armenian Communities Department supports a variety of institutions within the Armenian Diaspora, as well as carrying out general philanthropic activities to benefit Armenians in the areas of education, art, and science. The Department works to enable young Armenians to develop a basic knowledge of Armenian language and culture, and it funds the publication of scientific works fundamental to Armenian culture, such as the study of ancient manuscripts.

The Gulbenkian Foundation London branch provides grant aid in the United Kingdom and Ireland and provides support to Portuguese students on Foundation scholarships working for doctoral degrees at universities throughout the country. It also funds arts, social welfare and education initiatives. In Paris, the Calouste Gulbenkian Cultural Centre organizes courses, seminars and conferences, promotes concerts and recitals, and presents art and book exhibitions. It includes a substantial library and engages in editorial activities to advance Franco-Portuguese cultural relations.
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October 13, 1999

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