Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in the Ottoman Empire in 1869; his father was a trader and banker in Scutari. Gulbenkian graduated in engineering at King’s College London and in 1902 became a British citizen, conducting most of his work from London throughout his life. The source of his wealth was oil: he spotted the potential for oil exploration in Mesopotamia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, now Iraq. Dealing with French, American and Anglo-Dutch companies, he created and secured a five per cent share of the revenues of what became in 1929 the Iraq Petroleum Company – hence his nickname ‘Mr Five Per Cent’.
In 1927 he moved from London to Paris, where his house at 51 avenue d’Iéna (still owned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation) became famous for his collection of books, coins, manuscripts, paintings, statues and other objets d’art. He also became a private benefactor to the Armenian community across the world.In 1942 Gulbenkian left France for Portugal where he remained until his death in 1955. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was established in Lisbon in 1956.
Visit the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation website for further information on Gulbenkian’s life and legacy.