Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian


Born in 1869 in Scutari, Calcedonia, near Istanbul, Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian came from a leading Armenian family from Cesareia, in Capadoccia, straddling the crossroads between Europe and Asia.

This cultured, brilliant and highly eclectic man graduated from London's King's College. He spoke perfect English and held French culture in such great admiration he was to buy property in Normandy where he would take refuge among the trees, flowers and wildlife.

Towards the end of the 19th century, he realised the future role of oil as the key source of energy. Due to his perseverance, diplomatic skills and powers of negotiations, he played a key role in defining the general framework governing the development of the Middle East oil industry. This resulted in the 1928 agreement that agreed to divide up this "black gold" among four major companies: the British Anglo-Persian Oil Co. (now BP), the Royal Dutch-Shell Group, the Compagnie Française des Pétroles and the Near East Development Corporation (a consortium of six leading American oil producers).
Calouste Gulbenkian gained rights over five per cent of all revenue, hence his nickname "Mister five-per-cent".

In April 1942, as the Second World War raged, Calouste Gulbenkian decided to head to Portugal. He took the luxurious Hotel Avis (where the current Hotel Sheraton stands) as his residence. This man from the Middle East was never again to leave the most westerly country of Europe and its welcome and friendship through to his death in 1955.

And Gulbenkian more than knew how to repay Portugal for its hospitality. In 1953, he set up a Foundation, rendered permanent under Portuguese private law through statutes drawn up by friend and lawyer, Dr. José Azeredo Perdigão.

The headquarters of the Foundation house Museum which exhibits the works of art (over 6,000 of them) collected from all over Europe, the United States and the Far East by Gulbenkian throughout his life. The collection - considered one of the best in Europe - reveals the passion of a collector for beauty in its most diverse forms and who proved able to establish a synthesis between European and Middle Eastern artistic traditions.

In 1969, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Museum opened not only their own doors but also a most beautiful park and right in the centre of Lisbon. Throughout many years now, Portugal, and Lisbon in particular, has owed the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation a debt of gratitude for its services to culture.

Picture courtesy of: Service of the Armenian Communities, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian
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