Calouste Gulbenkian was a Turkish-born British financier, industrialist, and philanthropist. In 1911 he helped found the Turkish Petroleum Co. and became the first to exploit Iraqi oil; his 5% share made him one of the world’s richest men. From 1948 he negotiated Saudi Arabian oil concessions to U.S. firms. He amassed an outstanding art collection, now in Lisbon’s Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. The Lisbon-based Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation supports activities worldwide in science, art, social welfare, cultural relations, health, and education. (Encyclopædia Britannica)

Calouste Gulbenkian revealed his passion for art at an early age. This reflected his origins in Cappadocia – a major crossroads of religions and art – and Constantinople – another crossroads of civilizations and once the capital of the Romans, and then of the Ottoman Turks. Throughout his life he assembled an eclectic and unique collection that was influenced by his travels and his personal taste, and sometimes involved lengthy and complex negotiations with leading experts and specialist dealers.

His collection now totals over 6,000 pieces from all over the world, dating from Antiquity to the early twentieth century (including examples from Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Babylonia, Armenia, Persia, Islamic Art, Europe, and Japan). His attachment to the pieces he had acquired was so strong that he even called them his “children”. More information about Gulbenkian’s love of art, including the history of his collection, is available here.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was established in 1956 as a Portuguese foundation for the whole of humanity. The Foundation’s original purpose was to foster knowledge and raise the quality of life of persons in the fields of the arts, science, education, and charity. Bequeathed by the last will and testament of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, the Foundation is of perpetual duration and undertakes activities in accordance with directives from its headquarters in Lisbon (Portugal) and its delegations in Paris (France) and London (the United Kingdom). Read more at the Foundation’s official website.

Additionally, you can also watch a video about the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation below.

In the documentary Calouste Gulbenkian: Mr. Five Percent (1987) we are taken to Paris, Istanbul, Venice, and Lisbon to see the art pieces in the care of this avid art collector. Information about the origin of Gulbenkian’s nickname is available here.

José Rodrigues dos Santos, one of Portugal’s most prolific writers, dedicated two of his books to the history of this formidable businessman and philanthropist: The Man from Constantinople and A Millionaire in Lisbon. An interview with the author is available here.

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