The Gulbenkian Museum is Lisbon’s finest museum, yet the man behind this collection, Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) known as “Mr Five Per Cent” on account of his personal holding of five per cent of Middle East oil production, was an enigmatic and publicity-shy figure, about whom little was known. This talk by the author of the definitive biography of Gulbenkian weaves together the history of a great European collection (featuring Rembrandts bought from The Hermitage, as well as Lalique glass, carpets, Iznik ware and Renaissance paintings) with that of the emergence of the modern oil industry.
Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (23 March 1869 – 20 July 1955) was a British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist. He played a major role in making the petroleum reserves of the Middle East available to Western development and is credited with being the first person to exploit Iraqi oil. Gulbenkian travelled extensively and lived in a number of cities including Istanbul, London, Paris and Lisbon. Throughout his life, Gulbenkian was involved with many philanthropic activities including the establishment of schools, hospitals, and churches. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a private foundation based in Portugal, was created in 1956 by his bequest and continues to promote arts, charity, education, and science throughout the world. It is now among the largest foundations in Europe. By the end of his life he had become one of the world’s wealthiest people and his art acquisitions one of the greatest private collections.