The objects in the Museu Gulbenkian aren’t immense in number, but each themed collection contains pieces of such individual interest and beauty that you need frequent unwinding sessions – well provided for by the basement café-bar and tranquil gardens. The museum takes in virtually every great phase of Eastern and Western art. The small Egyptian room displays art from the Old Kingdom (c.2700 BC) up to the Roman period. Fine Roman statues, silver and glass, and gold jewellery from ancient Greece follow. The Islamic arts are magnificently represented by a variety of ornamental texts, opulently woven carpets, glassware and Turkish tiles. There is also porcelain from China, and beautiful Japanese prints and lacquer-work.
European art includes work from all the major schools. From fifteenth-century Flanders, there is a pair of panels by Rogier van der Weyden. The seventeenth-century collection yields Peter Paul Rubens’ graphic The Love of the Centaurs (1635) and Rembrandt’s Figure of an Old Man. Featured eighteenth-century works include those by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Thomas Gainsborough – in particular the stunning Portrait of Mrs Lowndes-Stone – and Francesco Guardi. The big names of nineteenth- to twentieth-century France – Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Jean-François, Millet and Auguste Renoir – are all represented, along with John Sargent and J.M.W. Turner’s vivid Wreck of a Transport Ship (1810). Elsewhere you’ll find ceramics from Spain and Italy, Sèvres porcelain and furniture from the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, and assorted Italian tapestries and textiles. The last room features an amazing Art Nouveau collection of 169 pieces of jewellery by René Lalique; the highlight is the fantastical Peitoral-libélula (Dragonfly breastpiece) brooch, half-woman, half-dragonfly, decorated with enamel work, gold, diamonds and moonstones.