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Ten Years of Collecting at the J. Paul Getty Museum

September 24, 2007

When the Getty Center opened in December 1997, the installation of the collection in the new J. Paul Getty Museum was an eagerly anticipated event. In an astonishingly short space of time – little more than 20 years – a major museum collection had been assembled that, in the quality of many of its individual works, could rival that of many others across the country and around the world.

As the Getty Center celebrates its 10 years of collecting, it is time to highlight some of the most important additions to the collection made by the different curatorial departments during the past decade. The rate of acquisitions may have diminished since the 1980s, but certainly not their quality. The Getty Museum collects creatively and dynamically – and, in both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa, a great collection of art continues to grow.


Senior Curator: Karol Wight

10 Years of Collecting: In the past decade, important works of art have been added to the collection that both enhance existing holdings and filled significant gaps in the collection.  While the number of objects added to the antiquities collection has not been large, they are important contributions to the museum, including ancient engraved gems, glass, early Cypriot ceramics, and sculpture.  The most recent acquisition, a balsamarium depicting an athlete or boxer, is an unusual object of a type that was not well represented in the collection.  It ties in beautifully with the department’s theme of athletes and competition, and presents the public with a portrait of a seasoned athlete who has born the brunt of many competitions.

Key Acquisitions

Gold Beaker
Roman, 1st century A.D.
Object: H: 13.7 cm (5 3/8 in.)
Acquired in 2001

Group of 12 Greek and Roman Engraved Gems and Cameos
Roman, Gem: 1st century A.D.; Ring: modern
Gem: sardonyx; Ring: gold
Greatest extent: 1.8 cm (11/16 in.)
Acquired in 2001

Balsamarium in the Form of a Boxer’s Head
Graeco-Roman, 1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D.
Bronze with silver
Object: H: 17.1 cm (6 3/4 in.)
Acquired in 2007

Collection of Ancient Glass Vessels
Egyptian, Pharonic period, 18th Dynasty, from reign of Amenophis III/IV, about 1403-1347BC
Object (original): H: 9.5 cm (3 3/4 in.)
Object (restored): H: 12.6 cm (4 15/16 in.)
Acquired in 2003

Collecting Philosophy: The Getty Museum’s antiquities collection, while not comprehensive in nature, contains many important and beautiful works of art from the cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.  The department will continue to add works of art to the collection that meet certain aesthetic criteria, complement the current holdings, and expand the collection in significant ways.  Additionally, all works considered for acquisition must meet the Getty’s new acquisitions policy (announced October 2006).

Acquisition Anecdote: One of the more recent acquisitions, the Statue of a Pouring Satyr (2002.34), has been known since the late 1600s when it was found near Castel Gandalfo, Italy, at the site of an ancient villa belonging to Emperor Domitian.  It was one of four nearly identical statues depicting a young satyr holding a pitcher of wine in his upraised right hand, and pouring the wine into a cup in his lowered left hand.  The statue entered the Agostino Chigi Collection in Rome, where it remained until the Chigi collection was purchased in 1728 by Frederick Augustus I, elector of Saxony and King of Poland.  Along with the rest of the works of art purchased by Augustus the Strong, the Satyr was sent to Dresden for display with the royal collections.  When Germany reunited in 1991, restitution was made to the Royal Saxon family, and works of art, including this statue, were returned to them.  The family decided to sell parts of the collection, the Satyr among them, and at that time the Getty purchased the statue.

Rare Acquisition: The acquisition of ancient glass from the collection of Erwin Oppelnänder at the end of 2003 was a major addition to the holdings of antiquities.  It had long been a gap in the collection, and was one of the last areas needing extensive development.  It was a tremendous opportunity for the Getty to purchase this glass since the collector was a true connoisseur and the objects he acquired are true masterpieces of glassmaking.

Future Acquisition Goals: The department will continue to fill gaps in the collection when the opportunity presents itself.

Unique Characteristic: The Getty Museum at the Getty Villa is the only place in the United States dedicated to the study and display of ancient art.  The thematic arrangement of the Villa’s displays provides visitors a unique way to appreciate these works of art.  Given the size of the museum, and the quality of the permanent collection, visitors have an opportunity to see some of the best preserved artifacts from the ancient world presented in a fresh and easily comprehended manner.

Learning from the Collection: The Getty Villa’s thematic displays allow visitors to see ancient works of art in relation to their own lives.  It is very easy to distance ourselves from these ancient cultures when presented with the breadth of time between when they were produced and used, and the present day.  The Villa’s displays give visitors the opportunity to relate these objects to their own daily life experiences like sports and athletics, religion, dress, drinking and eating.


Senior Curator: Lee Hendrix

10 Years of Collecting: Since 1997, 152 new drawings have been added to the Getty Museum’s collection.

Over the course of the last 10 years, the Drawings Department has built a very strong collection of 16th and 17th century Italian and Northern drawings, acquiring core groups of works by Venetian 18th century draftsmen (including works by G.B. Tiepolo, Guardi, and Canaletto), and French 18th and 19th century artists (such as Boucher, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec).

Key Acquisitions

Taddeo Decorating the Façade of the Palazzo Mattei, about 1590 
Federico Zuccaro (Italian, 1541-1609)
Pen and brown ink and brown wash over black chalk and touches of red chalk
9 7/8 x 16 5/8 in.
Acquired in 1999

A Muse, mid-1720s
Rosalba Carriera (Italian, 1675-1757)
Pastel on blue paper
12 3/16 x 10 ¼ in.
Acquired in 2003

Design for a Quatrefoil, ca. 1475-1490
After the Master of the Housebook (German, active c. 1470-c.1500) 
Pen and black ink 
24.3 x 21.7 cm (9 ½ x 8 ½ in.) 
Acquired in 2005

The Birth and Triumph of Venus, about 1743
François Boucher (French 1703-1770)
Black chalk and gouache
39 x 31 cm (15 3/8 x 12 3/ 16 in.)
Acquired in 2005

Collecting Philosophy: Drawing is the fundamental “first step” in the creation of much western art. The department aims to build an exhibition collection not only of masterpieces, but one that can show the various uses and techniques of drawing over the centuries through the very best examples.

Acquisition Anecdote: In 1999, a group of 20 drawings by Federico Zuccaro (c.1541-1609), showing the life of his older brother Taddeo, was acquired by the Getty.
The drawings feature the poignant tale of Taddeo's trials and tribulations as he sought fame and fortune as a painter in Rome, and show his eventual success. The 20 drawings had remained intact as a group since their manufacture, complete with a booklet of charming related verses written by Federico. On several occasions there was a danger that the group would be split up and sold separately, but their addition to the Getty’s collection means they will remain together in perpetuity.

Rare Acquisition: One of the earliest drawings for non-religious stained glass is Design for a Quatrefoil with a Castle, Two Lovers, a Maiden Tempted by a Fool, a Couple Seated by a Trough, and a Knight and His Lover Mounted on a Horse, after the Master of the Housebook.  At the time of the Getty Museum’s Painting on Light exhibition in 2000, Getty Curator Lee Hendrix sought to borrow it, but its whereabouts were unknown (it was last seen in a private collection, but the trail went cold).  Nonetheless, an image of it was included in the exhibition catalogue. Five years later, the drawing surfaced at a Christie's auction, where the Getty acquired it.

Future Goals: The department’s goal is to take advantage of rare opportunities that arise, such as major drawings that do not appear regularly on the market, while steadily building the core collection of works.  One special area of focus is 18th-century Dutch drawings.

Unique Characteristic: The Getty’s drawings collection is one of the only museum collections in the world in which each sheet has been individually considered and acquired. This gives the collection a high quality level, even if it is bound by the limits of what has been available for purchase on the market. Many older museums have had the luxury of acquiring their collections over several centuries.  In a short time span of 25 years, the Drawings Department has built an important world-class collection.

Learning from the Collection: The collection teaches visitors the extraordinary possibilities of draftsmanship, a skill at which most people have tried their hand at some stage, and the centrality of drawing in the history of western art.


Senior Curator: Thomas Kren

10 Years of Collecting: Since the opening of the Getty Center, the Department of Manuscripts has grown by 40 new acquisitions.

Over the course of the past 10 years, the department was able to add a small group of masterworks that have long been coveted, including an English Gothic bestiary; the Stammheim Missal, one of the greatest known manuscripts of 12th-century Germany; and the Avranches Psalter, one of the earliest major manuscripts of French Gothic illumination. The department has also had the opportunity to transform its previously modest holdings of Italian manuscripts into a much more representative collection through the addition of two dozen illuminated manuscript leaves and cuttings, along with one major book.

Key Acquisitions

The Stammheim Missal, about 1170s (German)
Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment bound between wood boards covered with alum tawed pigskin
Leaf: 28.2 x 18.9 cm (11 1/8 x 7 7/16 in.)
Acquired in 1997

Psalter, after 1205 
Master of the Ingeborg Psalter (French, about 1195-1210)
Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment bound between pasteboard covered with brown calf
Leaf: 31 x 21.9 cm (12 3/16 x 8 5/8 in.)
Acquired in 1999

Northumberland Bestiary, about 1250-1260 (English)
Pen-and-ink drawings tinted with body color and translucent washes on parchment, bound between pasteboard and covered with red morocco
Closed: 21 x 15.7 cm (8 1/4 x 6 3/16 in.)
Acquired in 2007

Initial V: The Ascension, designed about 1410, completed about 1431 
Designed by Lorenzo Monaco (Italian, about 1370-1423 or 1424) and completed by Zanobi di Benedetto Strozzi (Italian, 1581 – 1644) and Battista di Biagio Sanguini
Italian Tempera and gold on parchment
Leaf: 40.2 x 32.7 cm (15 13/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
Acquired in 2003

Collecting Philosophy: The department’s philosophy is to add objects that convey the rich history of medieval and Renaissance manuscript illumination through high-quality examples.  The department strives to acquire the very best manuscripts that come on the market and, as far as possible, to add to the collection to make it representative of the history of manuscript illumination.

Acquisition Anecdote: Most museum works of art have passed through many owners over the centuries, but there is one instance in which the Getty is only the third owner of a manuscript from the past eight hundred years – the Stammheim Missal. The missal, purchased in 1997, is one of the great German manuscripts of the 12th century and the finest manuscript in the collection. Commissioned by the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Michael’s in the German town of Hildesheim, the manuscript came into the hands of a local nobleman at the dissolution of the monastery 200 years ago. The Getty purchased it from descendants of that nobleman. Because museums make works of art available to a wide audience on an ongoing basis, a great many more people have viewed this masterpiece of medieval art in the past decade than had done so over the course of the previous eight centuries.

Rare Acquisition: Seventeen years ago the Getty missed at auction the great English Gothic manuscript known as the Northumberland Bestiary. English manuscript illuminators made bestiaries (a medieval encyclopedia of animals) into one of the most beloved of all illustrated Middle Ages texts and, at the time, this was the last significant example known to remain in private hands. Over the course of the past 17 years, curator Thomas Kren worked to persuade the owner of the book - his favorite manuscript in a superb personal collection - that the J. Paul Getty Museum was an ideal home for it, making it available to a wide and enthusiastic audience of art lovers.  The Getty acquired the work in June 2007.

Future Goals: The department’s goal is to strengthen its holdings of Gothic manuscript illumination, secular manuscripts, and where possible, English and French manuscript illumination. Another goal is to acquire a major Carolingian manuscript. (Charlemagne reigned from 800 to 814 and his dynasty fostered some of the greatest early medieval manuscript illumination).

Unique Characteristic: Relatively few museums have collected manuscript illumination systematically and show their collection as regularly as the Getty. Most of the great collections belong to libraries that mount exhibitions of their illuminated manuscripts infrequently.  Along with its collection of Old Master and Impressionist paintings, the Getty’s manuscripts collection allows the Museum to illustrate the history of European painting up to 1900 with unusual richness and depth and a fuller, more balanced representation of the painting of the Middle Ages.

Learning from the Collection: The collection is a window onto medieval and Renaissance life, politics, and thought that includes many great examples in the art of painting of those periods. The common wisdom is that most of the major European paintings of a given era are found hanging on the walls of museums. This is true to a degree, but for the period of the Middle Ages, an equally large portion is found on the pages of hand-written books. Spanning from the fifth to the 16th centuries, European book painting endured longer than the more familiar art of painting on panel or canvas, which began only in the 13th century.


Senior Curator: Scott Schaefer

10 Years of Collecting: Since the opening of the Getty Center, the Department of Paintings has grown by 58 new acquisitions, building a very strong collection of 18th century French paintings.

Key Acquisitions

Landscape with a Calm, about 1650-1651
Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594 – 1665)
Oil on canvas
97 x 131 cm (38 3/16 x 51 9/16 in.)
Acquired in 1997

Portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos, Marchese del Vasto, in Armor with a Page, probably January - February 1533
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, about 1487 – 1576)
Oil on canvas
110 x 80 cm (43 5/16 x 31 1/2 in.)
Acquired 2003

Young Italian Woman at a Table, about 1895 - 1900
Paul Cézanne, French, 1839 - 1906
Oil on canvas
91.7 x 73.3 cm (36 1/8 x 28 7/8 in.)
Acquired in 1999

The Calydonian Boar Hunt, about 1611 - 1612
Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, 1577 - 1640
Oil on panel
59 x 90.2 cm (23 1/4 x 35 1/2 in.)
Acquired in 2006

Collecting Philosophy: The department’s collecting philosophy is to acquire paintings that stand out independently as significant works of art, but at the same time resonate within the Museum’s collection of European paintings from 1300 – 1900.

Future Goals: It is the department’s goal to continue to collect important European paintings dating to 1900 that come on the market.  A special focus is expanding and strengthening the collection’s German and Spanish paintings.

Unique Characteristic: The collection provides compelling examples of the finest paintings from 1300 to 1900 by artists who have profoundly affected the development of the history of art.

Learning from the Collection: The Museum’s exceptional collection of paintings allows visitors to have direct, visceral experiences with significant works of art that they’ve only previously encountered in art history books. Though the images are striking even in that context, the two-dimensional versions cannot convey the sheer pleasure of seeing an artist’s brushstrokes firsthand.


Senior Curator: Weston Naef

10 Years of Collecting: Since the opening of the Getty Center, the Department of Photographs has grown by 4,818 new acquisitions and has expanded its exhibition space from 1,700 to 7,000 square feet.

Key Acquisitions

Lotus Columns at Gournah, 1842-1843
Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804-1892)
18.7 x 12.1 cm (7 3/8 x 4 3/4 in.)
Acquired in 2006

The Nile River and Temples, Philae, 1843-1844
Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804-1892)
Daguerreotype in glass and wood case
12 x 18.8 cm (4 3/4 x 7 3/8 in.)
Acquired in 2005

The Temple of Vesta, Rome, 1842
Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804-1892)
9.4 x 24 cm (3 11/16 x 9 7/16 in.)
Acquired in 2003

Piscine Probatique, Jérusalem, 1844
Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804-1892)
17.9 x 11.3 cm (7 1/16 x 4 7/16 in.)
Acquired in 2004

Collecting Philosophy: The department’s philosophy of collecting photographs starts with seizing opportunities for works of the highest quality that are evaluated according to whether they fill a gap or complement strengths of the existing collection. The department tends to add to strength before filling in the gaps and strongly favors collecting the most important photographers in depth so as to enable exhibitions and publications inspired by the collection.  When the department has the opportunity to fill in the gaps of the collection; they strive to do so with groups of photographs rather than individual pictures.  They also feel a special duty to hold work by the best photographers with roots in California and the West.

Acquisition Anecdote: The department first learned about the Girault de Prangey daguerreotypes in 1997.  The museum’s unsuccessful negotiations with the family over a five-year period resulted in the sale at auction of approximately 160 of the 900 daguerreotypes. The museum believed they were well poised at the auction but unfortunately encountered the deep pockets of the Sheik of Qatar, who outbid them on a number of key items.

Rare Acquisition: The Beato collection was formed over a 20-year period partially under Weston Naef's guidance by a collector who set the goal of acquiring the best example of as many of Beato's known photographs as possible (as well as those made in partnership with other photographers).  The collector offered the Getty right of first refusal on several occasions, however it was not until recently that the Museum chose to purchase the entire collection of 834 photographs.

Future Goals: The department is in the process of creating a cold storage vault that will allow them to accommodate large- scale photographs under conditions that maximize their longevity. As a result of this initiative the Museum will be deepening its holdings of large-scale photographs.

Unique Characteristic: The department holds one of the world’s preeminent collections of photographs and has made the Getty, and Los Angeles, an important center for the study of the history and art of photography.

Learning from the Collection: The collection teaches visitors, through daguerreotypes and other examples, about photography’s experimental beginnings in England and France in the 1830s and leads up to the fine art and social documentary traditions of the 20th century.

Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Senior Curator: Antonia Boström

10 Years of Collecting: The Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts has acquired 138 new objects since the opening of the Getty Center in 1997.

Over the past decade, the department has acquired major examples of Italian Renaissance sculpture.  For example, Riccio’s Madonna and Child; a French 18th-century portrait bust, Houdon’s Jean de Biré; Gauguin’s Head with Horns; an affecting marble of Belisarius by Jean-Baptiste Stouf; an early medieval Limoges Christ in Majesty; an 18th-century silver sculpture, La Machine d’Argent; and a virtuoso carving of a goblet with a mythological scene on it.

Key Acquisitions

Head with Horns, about 1895-97
Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903)
Sandalwood with traces of polychromy on lacewood
8 11/16 x 9 x 4 3/4 in (head) 7 7/8 x 9 13/16 x 6 7/8 in (base) Acquired in 2002

La Machine d’Argent (Silver Centerpiece), France, Paris, 1754
François-Thomas Germain (French, 1726-1791)
8 1/4 x 14 1/2 x 9 in.
Acquired in 2005

Christ in Majesty, French, Limoges, probably 1188
Copper, engraved and worked in repoussée technique, with traces of gilding, and with inserts in champlevé enamel and in colored glass
Height: 17 7/8 inches
Acquired in 2007

Virgin and Child, Italian, Padua, about 1520 - 1525
Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Trento, 1470-Padua, 1532)
Terracotta with traces of polychromy
25 3/8 x 22 13/16 x 12 3/8 in.
Acquired in 2003

Collecting Philosophy: The department’s collecting philosophy is to acquire exceptional examples of European sculpture in order to give balance to the Getty’s 18th-century French decorative arts collections.  The collection frequently demonstrates the interrelationship of sculpture and the decorative arts.  One example of this is the acquisition of the sterling silver La Machine d’Argent, which was acquired in 2005.

Acquisition Antidote: The 2005 donation of the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture collection, which consists of 28 outdoor 20th-century sculptures, was acquired from the collection of the late legendary Hollywood film producer, Ray Stark and his wife, Fran.  One condition of the gift was that the pieces be installed and on public view in a timely fashion.  After a fast-paced, two-and-a-half-year schedule, the final installation of the sculptures has transformed areas throughout the Getty Center, some of which had not been publicly accessible until now, into beautifully designed gardens and outdoor gallery spaces for visitors to enjoy.

Rare Acquisition: The gilt bronze Limoges Christ in Majesty turned up in a small Spanish auction, where it was acquired by a French dealer from whom the department bought the work.  This is an exquisite and unusually large Limoges relief of great importance in the history of medieval enamels and their export to Spain. It ranks with the best in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre.

Future Goals: The department’s goal is to expand, with judicious additions, the medieval collections, the 17th–19th-century Northern European sculpture, neoclassicism outside France in both sculpture and decorative arts, and Kunstkammer objects.

Unique Characteristic: The French 17th- and 18th-century decorative arts collections rank among the foremost in the world. In addition, the European sculpture collection is rich in Renaissance and Baroque bronzes and in neoclassical French and British sculpture.  Also well represented in the collection are European glass and Italian maiolica.

Learning from the Collection: Visitors should be able to recognize that there is a closer connection than often recognized between sculpture and the arts in other media, such as ceramics, wood carving, gilt bronzes, but also painting. The division that is artificially placed between these media and fields is dated and was not recognized when the works were originally made. Thus, a sculptor might provide a model for a ceramic factory (Meissen, Sèvres, etc.), or a painter might provide a design for a stained glass maker. The collection can also trace the arc of the development and connection of bronze sculpture, for instance, from an early medieval high relief of Christ in Majesty to the raised bronze relief of Saul Baizerman’s Night from the Stark collection.

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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.