Free Art in Lisbon: The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

I absolutely adore art galleries and museums. I could quite happily spend time in an art gallery or a museum for an entire day if the collection is big enough. I think my love of art stems from my love of learning new things. I love history and learning more about the world around me and I find that art museums allow you to learn so much about different facets of history which have either inspired artists or had a profound effect on their work and lives. I think the only thing I love more than art galleries and museums is free art. I am forever grateful about the fact that I was born, raised and continue to live in London, a city which prides itself on being able to provide residents and tourists alike with a raft of different art galleries and museums which are highly accessible and largely free to enter (excluding private/special exhibitions). I think that this approach to art says a lot about how much a country believes that art is truly for everyone and that the enjoyment of art shouldn’t be restricted to a wealthy minority but should be available for all.

After doing some research I found out that the Calouste Gulbenkian museum, which normally charges visitors 12.50 euros, is free on Sundays from 2pm onwards (N.B. you still need to get a paper ticket from the reception desk as they scan in all visitors). I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t purposely arrange my visit so that I could arrive early on a Sunday, grab some lunch and enjoy an afternoon at the Calouste Gulbenkian museum for free. See, I really do love museums! Straight after I landed in Lisbon I dropped off my bags at my Airbnb, got a bite to eat and then headed straight to the museum.

Before I arrived at the museum entrance, I was amazed at how much greenery was surrounding the museum. It seemed to be enclosed by a large garden, which meant that the museum itself was in a very secluded and green space. As I wondered through the garden I was taken aback by how quiet and lush it was. It looked like the perfect place to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon.

The collection inside the museum itself is vast and varied. The museum is separated into different sections including the founder’s collection (which has a temporary exhibition adjacent to it) and the modern collection. In his will Calouste Gulbenkian, the Armenian oil tycoon and art enthusiast after whom the museum is named, bequeathed his private collection to a museum which he specified should be built in Lisbon to protect and exhibit it.

Over several decades he amassed an art collection which dwarfs that of the National Gallery in London. The space is filled with over 6000 works of art including porcelain from the far east, intricately painted Nanban screens and pottery adorned with Islamic calligraphy.

You can also find paintings from Dutch masters like Rembrandt in addition to masterpieces from the likes of Gainsborough, J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet. The museum is also filled with ornate tapestries, armoires, candelabras and clocks; all in all, I was truly amazed at the depth and breath of the collection.

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A painting by Rembrandt Van Rijn

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A painting by Thomas Gainsborough

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Another thing I loved about the museum was that the walls nearest to the garden were large floor to ceilings windows. Even though some windows were tinted or covered with screens to protect the paintings from natural light which was pouring through the building, I felt as though the windows gave the museum the illusion that the paintings weren’t only contained inside but were outside amongst the flora and fauna surrounding the museum. This made the space seem even bigger than it was and gave you the impression that there were no real boundaries between the interior and the exterior.

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View of the garden through a floor to ceiling window

The museum also featured a temporary exhibition called “Pós Pop”. This mainly featured pop art created in the 1960s onwards by a raft of mainly Portuguese and British artists. This temporary exhibition provided a nice contrast to the art which I had just witnessed in the founder’s exhibition.

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All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Calouste Gulbenkian museum. If you are a lover of art (Renaissance or modern, paintings or sculpture) and luscious, serene green spaces I highly recommend giving this place a visit – especially on a Sunday afternoon!