Lisbon - Gulbenkian Museum, where ancient meets modern

Lisbon is a huge bustling city, packed full of eye popping, mind expanding, smile starting, clusters of wonders. Many of it’s joys can be found whilst just wandering around the hilly streets of the city. Gorgeous tile work abounds, buildings in the most humdrum of locations can leap out at you, thanks to the beauty of their decoration. Colourful shops selling vast arrays of tinned fish and small stores selling the vibrantly blood red Ginja liqueur, fight for your attention.

There are though, of course, many more formal places to enjoy the art and culture of the city. Two weeks wasn’t enough time to visit all the museums and galleries that are on offer. So, we selected a few to spend some time in whilst hiding from the blistering heat. Here is the first part of an overview of that world.

The first two of these are handily co-located within a lovely park, The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum consists of two very different collections housed in two striking twentieth century buildings. The Founders Collection focuses of the private collection of the aforementioned Gulbenkian with an emphasis on older pieces from all over the globe. The Modern Collection features a huge collection of Portuguese art from the 20th and 21st Century.

We started our visit in the Modern Collection. We were looking for a place to escape the warmth of a Lisbon summer day and we certainly managed that. If anything, we actually ending up rushing the later stages of our time in here as the building was really very cold, take a sweater if you are visiting!

The main display area is essentially one large room split over three levels, the development of sculptural styles in Portugal dominates the ground floor, the work becoming ever more esoteric as you wander through the timeline. The upper floor takes you on a similar journey through the painters of Portugal, with some fine pieces on display.

My favourite though was probably the lower level, which takes you through the development of the country with a more direct political context. Here we see the link between the colonial days and the growth of Portugal and then the impact of the revolution in 1974 amongst other things. There are many striking photos in this section and we would have lingered longer, had we not been so very cold!

After warming up by wandering through the lovely and interesting park which both building share, we visited the more antiquarian, founders collection, held in a stunning building from 1969. Now we may sound like philistines here but we tend to like our art to be from the last 150 years or so, meaning that we weren’t that excited about seeing the contents within the gorgeous building. We were though absolutely entranced by virtually the final room that we came to.

The room is dedicated to the work of Rene Lalique, and what work it is! The pieces here straddle the worlds of Art Nouveau and Art Deco covering a multitude of form. Astounding jewellery, stunning glassware, wonderful furniture and paintings and much more. The room overflows with elegance, beauty, astounding craftsmanship and imagination. It’s hard to imagine a room anywhere in the world that has more beauty per square foot than this one.

Both buildings have excellent canteen style restaurants, serving good food at very reasonable prices.