Callooh! Callay! for Calouste is Okay

Above: Dragonfly brooch once adorned by Sarah Bernhardt to whom it was lent by friend Calouste Gulbenkian. A corsage ornament which consists of dragonfly with griffon’s paws and green female torso whose face is supposed to be of Sarah herself. One of Lalique’s finest pieces. Gold, enamel, moonstones and chrysoprase stone (from Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation).

Sarah Bernhardt’s friend, Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian  was born on 23 March 1869 in in Üsküdar, in Constantinople (now Istanbul), during the Ottoman Empire. He was the son of an Armenian oil importer/exporter. His father sent him to be educated at King’s College London, where he studied petroleum engineering, and then to examine the Russian oil industry at Baku.

In 1896 Gulbenkian fled the Ottoman Empire along with his family, as a result of the Hamidian massacres. They ended up in Egypt, where Gulbenkian met Alexander Mantashev, a prominent Armenian oil magnate and philanthropist. Mantashev introduced Gulbenkian to influential contacts in Cairo. Still in his twenties, Gulbenkian moved to London where he arranged deals within the oil business. He became a naturalised British citizen in 1902. In 1907, he helped arrange the merger of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company with “Shell” Transport and Trading Company Ltd.

As a British businessman and philanthropist, he played a major role in making the petroleum reserves of the Middle East available to Western development.  His habit of retaining five percent of the shares of the oil companies he developed earned him the nickname “Mr. Five Percent”. By the end of his life he had become one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and his art acquisitions considered one of the greatest private collections.

Gulbenkian amassed a huge fortune and an art collection which he kept in a private museum at his Paris house. His four-storey, three-basement house on Avenue d’Iéna was said to be crammed with art, a situation ameliorated in 1936 when he lent 30 paintings to the National Gallery, London and his Egyptian sculpture to the British Museum.

  • He left France in late 1942 for Lisbon and lived in a suite at the luxurious Aviz Hotel, until his death on 20 July 1955, at the age of 86. He is buried at St. Sarkis Armenian Church, London.
  • At the time of his death, Gulbenkian’s fortune was estimated at between US$280-$840 million.
  • After undisclosed sums willed in trust to his descendants, the remainder of his fortune and art collection were willed to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (aka Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian).
  • The Foundation was to act for charitable, educational, artistic and scientific purposes; and the named trustees were his long-time friends Baron Radcliffe of Werneth, Lisbon attorney José de Azeredo Perdigão, and his son-in-law Kevork Loris Essayan.
  • Its headquarters and the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian) in Lisbon display his art collection.

O frabjous day – thanks to Gulbenkian’s philanthrop(a)y!

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