Saturday May 07, 2022

Paris to host Gulbenkian Revealed: In the Collector’s Private Realm exhibition

Paris to host Gulbenkian Revealed: In the Collector’s Private Realm exhibition

Bottle from Egypt or Syria, 14th century, Mamluk period.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Centre des monuments nationaux (CMN) and the Al Thani Collection Foundation, have announced the exhibition Gulbenkian Revealed: In the Collector’s Private Realm (June 10 – Oct. 2) at the gallery dedicated to temporary exhibitions of The Al Thani Collection at Hotel de la Marine, Paris. The exhibition is organised as part of the Saison France-Portugal 2022 and is presented in association with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Showcasing treasures from the museum in Lisbon which houses the private collection of its eponymous founder, it pays tribute to the work of one of the most celebrated art collectors of the early 20th century.

This is the second in a series of biannual temporary loan exhibitions to be shown at The Al Thani Collection. Opened in 2021 as the result of a long-term agreement between The Al Thani Collection Foundation and the CMN, the dedicated museum space hosts a long-term exhibition of highlights from the Collection, while also providing a venue for special exhibitions and loans from international museum partners, as well as educational events and seminars.

Gulbenkian Revealed presents a group of 90 works of art, and through them, the exhibition explores five key principles which guided Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) as a collector: preciousness, intimate scale, craftsmanship, provenance and rarity.


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The art objects are exhibited in six individual displays and are complemented by a selection of paintings and textiles on the gallery walls. The first section of the exhibition reflects the rich diversity of the Collection and Gulbenkian’s fascination with exceptional craftsmanship and precious materials.

Ranging from Antiquity to Art Nouveau, objects on display include an intricately-decorated fragment depicting the torso of the Egyptian ruler Pedubast Ist, the first pharaoh of the 23rd Dynasty (818–793 BCE), made of bronze inlaid with gold and copper; a selection of Greek coins, including some of the Aboukir Medallions and two decorated Italian majolica plates from the 16th century.

The display also features a selection of important pieces by Rene Lalique (1860-1945), shown in dialogue with ancient and Renaissance works of art. They include a diadem in the form of a free-standing cockerel’s head made of gold, horn and enamel, and holding a quartz crystal of cut amethyst in its beak. It was displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 where it provoked shock and admiration, establishing Lalique’s reputation.

Paris to host Gulbenkian Revealed: In the Collector’s Private Realm exhibition
Mounted ewer with lid.

Attracted from his youth by French art and culture, particularly of the 18th century, Gulbenkian acquired one of the most important collections of works of art from the period.

The exhibition shows many of his most important acquisitions, including a jasper ewer probably made in Sicily during the reign of Emperor Frederick II (1198-1250) with gold mounts made in Paris circa 1734-35. Other highlights include a pair of tureens with trays from the Orloff Service, commissioned by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, and made by Louis-Joseph Lenhendrick in 1769-70, as well as examples of Sevres, Qing Dynasty porcelain with ormolu mounts, precious books and bindings, clocks, silver and enamelled works of art.

Another display focusses on one of Gulbenkian’s great passions as a bibliophile and includes examples from medieval manuscripts to illustrations and bindings of the 20th century.

Highlights include The Book of Hours of Isabel of Brittany, also known as The Hours of Lamoignon, a manuscript with illuminations by the Master of Bedford (France, Paris, circa 1415-6). Another illuminated manuscript, Exercice de penitence, dedie a la Reine, was created for Louis XIII (1601-1643) and Anne of Austria (1601-1666). Born in 1869 in Istanbul, then capital of the Ottoman Empire, Gulbenkian spent his childhood and early youth in the city before continuing his education in Europe.

The collector’s origins and early years are reflected in the presence of textiles from the Islamic world: a Persian silk rug from the 16th century; an 18th century Persian silk coat made from silk; and 17th century Ottoman embroidery, all of which showcase his fascination for eastern textiles. A section is dedicated to craftsmanship from China and Japan and presents Qing Dynasty Chinese ceramics, together with Japanese objects in lacquered wood from the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the highlights is a plate with famille verte enamels from the Kangxi period (1662–1722) which is made in fine porcelain with a transparent glaze and which has a complex and dense decorative pattern. Another highlight from the same period is a pair of famille verte lions or fu dogs, while Japanese objects crafted in lacquered wood include cabinets, a writing box and a group of inro – small decorative containers which would hang from the waist.

The exhibition also includes a display dedicated to the private spaces of Gulbenkian’s Paris apartment, where he kept with works of Islamic Art.The treasures in this section include a 14th century Mamluke mosque lamp made from enamelled glass; a vibrant blue 17th century Safavid bottle; and a selection of Persian and Iznik ware.

A selection of manuscripts from the Islamic world includes a Persian manuscript dedicated to Sultan Iskandar, which is an example of the art of the book from the Timurid period (1378–1506).  The exhibition is curated by Dr. Nuno Vassallo e Silva, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Delegation in Paris. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was founded in 1956 as a Portuguese foundation for all humanity, to promote knowledge through the arts, charity, science and education.

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