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Highlights include a Roman sarcophagus, Ethiopian manuscript, and works by Gauguin, Claude Lorrain, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Irving Penn, and Carleton Watkins

September 9, 2008

LOS ANGELES—In 2007–8, the J. Paul Getty Museum continued its commitment to collecting extraordinary works of art. What began just a few decades ago as a modest private collection of paintings, antiquities, and decorative arts has been transformed in recent years—growing in focus to encompass six important areas: Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities; European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, and sculpture and decorative arts; and photographs. Significant growth was made in each of these areas as the result of acquisitions during the past year.  

The Getty Museum’s antiquities collection contains many important and beautiful works of art from the cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.  The Department of Antiquities continues to add works of art to the collection that meet our high aesthetic criteria, complement the current holdings, and expand the collection in significant ways.  Acquisitions in this area occur somewhat infrequently; however, when an acquisition is made it is of extraordinary quality, and this year’s purchase of a Roman sarcophagus dating to the third-century A.D. is no exception.

Sarcophagus representing a Dionysiac Vintage Festival joined the Museum’s impressive collection of ancient funerary monuments, and is an excellent example of Roman relief work. Its modern history can be traced back to the early 19th century. Its imagery provides us with insight into how Romans perceived life and death. The grape harvesting and winemaking scene on the front of the Sarcophagus touches on themes of daily life, and religious festivals and beliefs.  

The work is now on view at the Getty Villa—the centerpiece of a new installation focusing on wine and wine-making in antiquity that features objects in the collection that were used for storing and drinking wine, which was a vital aspect of ancient culture.

In its short 25-year history, the Drawings Department at the Getty has built a collection which not only includes masterpieces, but demonstrates the various uses and techniques of drawing over the centuries through the finest examples. This past year the department acquired Portrait of François-Jean Hoin (1748–1808), the artist's brother by Claude Jean Baptiste Hoin, a French artist and student of Jean-Baptiste Greuze; a stunning portrayal of Saint Andrew by the German artist Master H.B.; Four Beetles and a Moth by Dutch artist Nicolaas Struyck; A Winter Scene with Two Gentlemen Playing Kolf by Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp; and the piece de resistance Eve (“The Nightmare”) by the renowned Postimpressionist Paul Gauguin.

In 1899, Gauguin created a new process to make what he called “transfer drawings.” In a series of ten works, he experimented with tacky black printer’s ink and ochre ink, and varied the amount of pressure he applied to create lines of different values and textures. Using these media in conjunction with graphite and blue crayon, he worked on both sides of the sheet of paper, transferring the image through the sheet. Eve is the most monumental and compositionally complex of the drawings he created using this newly invented approach. Relating to Gauguin’s long-term interest in the biblical subject of the Fall of Man, Eve is a deeply psychological portrayal of sin and the devil and brings the drawings collection into the modern era.

The Department of Manuscripts is continually searching for rare objects that convey the rich history of medieval and Renaissance manuscript illumination. While the overarching goal is to assemble a collection representative of the history of manuscript illumination, the curators have sought to strengthen specific holdings, particularly English and French manuscript illumination. This year, with the acquisition of the Vita Christi, the Museum was able to acquire one of the finest examples of English Romanesque illumination remaining in private hands.  This rare manuscript contains over 100 illuminations from the 12th and 15th centuries.  The 51 miniatures dating from the 12th century may have served as an elaborate pictorial preface to a psalter, an important genre of English illumination that was not previously represented in the manuscripts collection.

Another significant addition to the collection this year is a Gospel book from Ethiopia from around the year 1500. The Ethiopian Christian Church is one of the oldest, dating back to the 4th century. Only the second Ethiopian manuscript to enter the collection—joining a single Gospel book leaf showing the evangelist John from the 14th century––the Gospel book complements this leaf and broadens the scope of the Getty’s collection, which already demonstrates the widespread tradition of illuminated codices in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, throughout Christian Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. While much early Ethiopian manuscript illumination is lost to us today, this Gospel book shows the marriage of its local traditions––especially in the depiction of the luxurious and richly patterned textiles and the use of regional figural models––with foreign traditions of devotional imagery, including inspirations from the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Europe. This rare volume features a brilliantly colored and richly patterned portrait of the evangelist John, which is currently on display in Faces of Power and Piety at the Getty Center.

The Museum’s exceptional collection of paintings allows visitors to have direct, visceral experiences with significant works of art that they might otherwise only encounter in art history books. One of the Getty’s strengths has always been in the area of French painting and this year’s acquisition of Claude Lorrain’s Coast View with the Abduction of Europa, Jean-Victor Bertin’s View in the Ile-de-France, and Paul Gauguin’s Arii Matamoe (The Royal End) further enhanced this area of the collection.

For several years, the Getty has actively sought to acquire a great painting by Gauguin to accompany its Post-impressionist masterpieces by van Gogh and Cezanne, and this exceptional composition exemplifies both the artist’s fascination with Polynesian culture and his ties to French Symbolism. Out of public view for almost the entire second half of the 20th century, Arii Matamoe is now on view at the Getty Center in the Museum’s Impressionist and Post-impressionist Gallery alongside Gauguin’s sculpture, Head with Horns.

Considered one of the greatest landscape painters of all time, Claude Lorrain transformed the genre and influenced the course of painting with the refined “ideal” landscape where the representation of nature was seen to surpass nature’s own beauty, order, and harmony.  Painted in 1645, Coast View with the Abduction of Europa is the first painting by Lorrain to enter the collection and is already considered a cornerstone of the collection of Baroque art and one of the Museum’s most important paintings. The painting is now on view at the Getty Center along with Poussin’s Landscape with a Calm and Holy Family, Rubens’s Calydonian Boar Hunt and Rembrandt’s Abduction of Europa.

Photography is one of the youngest, but also one of the largest, collecting areas at the Getty. Since the opening of the Getty Center, the Department of Photographs has expanded its exhibition space from 1,700 to 7,000 square feet. The department strongly favors collecting the most important photographers in depth so as to enable exhibitions and publications inspired by the collection.  Several bodies of work acquired this past year—including 20 photographs by Soon Tae Hong; 20 photographs by Shigeichi Nagano; and 17 photographs by Mikiko Hara—emphasize Asia as a new collecting area; while others, including a six-part panorama attributed to Carleton Watkins and Irving Penn’s unique master set of The Small Trades demonstrate the continued pursuit of masterpieces.  Initially created in 1950 and 1951 in Paris, London, and New York, Penn’s The Small Trades consists of 252 full-length portraits in gelatin silver and platinum of skilled tradespeople in their work clothes and carrying the tools of their respective trades, photographed in natural light against a neutral backdrop.  The Small Trades was Penn’s most extensive body of work, involving 206 subjects from three cities, and he returned to it over many decades, producing ever more exacting platinum prints.

The Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts is actively acquiring exceptional examples of European sculpture in order to give balance to the Getty’s French decorative arts collections. Toward that end, the Getty acquired The Vexed Man (after 1775) from the remarkable Character Heads series by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, a German artist active in Austria, and one of the most significant sculptors of the Viennese Enlightenment.

The Character Heads series is an astonishing group of 69 heads that Messerschmidt produced during the last 13 years of his life.  Carved in alabaster, or cast in lead or a tin alloy, these heads illustrate Messerschmidt’s obsession with the power of expression and with pathognomy--the study of passions and emotions, specifically the expression of emotions indicated by the voice, gestures, and facial expression.  The radical early Neoclassicism and astonishing expressiveness of the works make them among the Enlightenment’s most important artistic achievements. The Vexed Man’s rarity within the Character Heads series, because of its material—few were carved in alabaster—and the fact that it has remained in a private collection since the 19th century, makes this new acquisition acutely important.

Note to editors:  Images available on request.

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Rebecca Taylor
Getty Communications

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.

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