I was reading an article with the news that London’s Tate Modern Museum will move to a new modern building that should be completed by 2012. In the same article was a list of museums around the world and their respective number of visitors per year. It surprised me that Lisbon’s most visited museum is the Coaches Museum. While it is in fact recognized as having the world’s largest and most impressive collection of royal coaches, I find it quite surprising that it surpasses the Gulbenkian and the Ancient Art museums when it comes to the number of visitors. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it’s located so close to Jeronimos Monastery and several other top attractions, but even so, if time is to be dedicated to a museum when in Lisbon, it shoud be to the Gulbenkian.
The fact that the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is not better known worldwide is more than surprising, it’s a mystery. This is thought to be the world’s largest private art collection, and considering that its original owner was known to collect “only the best,” each piece exhibited is guaranteed to be a masterpiece. When the museum was being renovated a few years ago, many of its most important works were sent to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as a temporary exhibition, and since I was living in New York at the time, that was when I really got to know more about Mr. Gulbenkian and his extraordinary collection. When I later visited the museum in Lisbon, I concluded that it is indeed a mystery why more people don’t know about it. Those who appreciate great art and don’t visit it, are missing out on incredible works by Rambrandt, Rubens, Manet, Van Dyck, and Hourdon, along with ancient Egyptian and Islamic treasures, and fantastic Lalique jewelry. I strongly recommend that you place the Gulbenkian high on your list of must-sees in Lisbon.
Then there’s the Ancient Art Museum, which I revisited recently because of its current temporary exhibition, the exceptional Rau Collection. To know more about this museum, see its page at GoLisbon by clicking on the link in this paragraph, but once again I must state how much it surprises me that so many visitors to Lisbon overlook yet another great museum. From its fascinating Japanese screens to Bosch’s fantastic Temptation of Saint Anthony, its collection is amazing. And its café in a garden with views over the river is one of the nicest places in the city to end your sightseeing in late afternoon.
Another delightful collection is that of the Tile Museum, arguably the city’s most beautiful. This one I understand why it is often skipped since it is far away from the center, by an industrial area, and most people probably just don’t know what to expect from a museum dedicted to tilework. But the opulent convent in which it is housed alone would be worth the effort of a visit. Add to that the wonderful tile paintings and a very pleasant (tiled, of course) café, and you’ll find one of the city’s most unique and memorable sights.
Finally, one more museum that deserves your attention is the Design Museum. Its cool, world-class collection includes works by Eames, Starck, and Gehry, among others by the 20th century’s greatest artists, and I agree with the critics who’ve stated that this is one of the world’s great design collections. I don’t have a particular interest in design, but still found the funky objects to be quite fascinating.
Maybe early next year, with the opening of the outstanding Berardo Collection museum, people will start to take a closer look at the great art “hidden” in Lisbon.