January 24, 2005
The J. Paul Getty Museum focuses on seven areas of collecting: Greek and Roman antiquities; European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts; and photographs. (Note: The Getty Research Institute also collects but with a scholarly audience in mind. The holdings of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute include primary source materials such as artists’ sketchbooks, original documents, personal notes and letters, prints, and rare books.)
Antiquities were one of the most important elements of the collection that Mr. Getty built. Over the years, it has grown into one of the finest in this country. It is particularly strong in Greek vases. Among the highlights is a Chalcidian amphora (storage jar) made in Rhegion (modern Reggio Calabria), one of the south Italian colonies of the Greek city state Chalcis. It depicts accurately a scene from the Iliad, told in brutal clarity, in which the wily Greek heroes Diomedes and Odysseus sneak into the camp of the enemy Thracian King Rhesos while he and his troops are asleep and cut their throats in order to steal their immortal horses.
A group of ten silver drinking vessels from the outer reaches of the empire of Alexander the Great, perhaps as far east as modern Afghanistan, includes a rhyton (a horn shaped vessel with a spout) in the form of a stag, the noblest quarry of hunters. This and others of the group—a lion, two lynxes—are among the most vigorous representations of animals from all of antiquity. Silver
like this, a token of wealth and imperial favor in antiquity, was melted down by captors and thieves on such a scale that very little has survived. The Getty also holds pieces of Hellenistic gold jewelry, including a spectacular Macedonian gold wreath—a lavish shimmering crown with leaves and various types of flowers, including myrtle, made of thin sheet gold and inlaid with blue and green glass paste.
A unique Greek statue, the over- life sized cult figure of Aphrodite was acquired by the Getty in 1988. Almost certainly made for a temple in the colonies of Magna Grecia, it combines marble and limestone in an unusual composite image called an “akrolith.” The piece is one of the most complete examples of the most important type of sculpted figure to survive from antiquity.
While Aphrodite is monumental, many of the Getty’s greatest acquisitions have been
very small. The bronze dead warrior is one of the most beautiful Greek works in the collection. The complex arched and twisting pose embodies the artist’s interest in exploring the expressive possibilities of his medium. This Greek bronze of the early fifth century eloquently embodies the ideal of kalos thanatos,beauty in death.
Another highlight is the recently acquired Oppenländer collection of ancient glass, nearly 400 objects of exceptional quality and chronological breadth. The group constitutes a comprehensive overview of ancient glass, including statuettes, amulets, inlays, and seals, as well as numerous vessels for eating and drinking, and for holding perfume or ointment. Although most are Greek or Roman, the collection also comprises pieces of Egyptian, Achaemenid, Minoan, Mycenaean, Etruscan, Byzantine, and Islamic manufacture. The acquisition places the Getty among the nation's leading centers for the display and study of ancient glass.
In 1996, the Getty received the most important group of antiquities since Mr. Getty's gift of his personal collection. More than 300 objects from one of the finest private collections of antiquities—that of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman of New York—arrived through a combination of gift and purchase. The group included major Greek and Roman marble statues, vases, bronzes, and terracottas that complement the works already in the Getty’s collection. Among the highlights are an Etruscan terracotta antefix (roof ornament) in the form of a Maenad and Satyr dancing, and a magnificent large Greek wine vessel (lebes) of the Hellenistic period, decorated with relief attachments and silver inlays.
· The Getty’s collection of antiquities will be housed and exhibited at the Getty Villa when it opens in Winter 2005/2006 on completion of a major construction project. The Getty Villa in Malibu will serve as an educational center dedicated to the study of the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Greece, Rome, and Etruria. Together, the Getty Villa and the Getty Center will provide an expanded range of exhibitions and programming in the visual arts.
The Getty’s paintings collection is among the most popular with visitors, featuring famous works such as Van Gogh's Irises. The painter’s view of a flowerbed in the asylum of Saint-Rémy stands as one of the most memorable and personal images of the natural world in all of art. In addition to a small core of Impressionist pictures by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Renoir, the Getty also houses the famous Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889 by James Ensor, long recognized as the masterpiece of the artist and one of the key works of the fin de siècle in Europe. This huge painting still shocks. Its bitter political message is conveyed by thoroughly modern distortions and intentional crudity. Other important works from the following decade are Still Life with Apples and Young Italian Woman at a Table, two of the most satisfying mature paintings by Cézanne.
The 19th century is also represented by masters such as Jacques Louis David, the key French painter of the Revolutionary period and its aftermath. His Bonaparte Sisters, a portrait of unusual subtlety, depicts Napoleon’s nieces united in devotion to their exiled father. Another portrait, The Convalescent, is an exceptional example of Edgar Degas’ achievements in that genre, offering unique insight into an artist better known for his images of ballet dancers and bathers, both subjects also represented by Degas in the Getty collection. Paintings by the leading Romantics have also been added, notably a gruesome bullfight scene by the Spaniard Francisco Goya, a moor on horseback by Eugène Delacroix, and J. M. W. Turner's rousing seascape of 1844, which presents nature as not only beautiful but also potentially dangerous.
The Getty’s collection of Renaissance paintings is also strong. In addition to Italian panels by Masaccio, Gentile da Fabriano, and Carpaccio, the Getty also features a rare 14th century triptych of the Virgin Mary and saints by Bernardo Daddi, the principal painter in Florence after Giotto. Rarer still is its spectacular condition. The original gilding and its elaborate tooled decoration are preserved intact, as is the delicate modeling of the saints' costumes. This is also true of the earliest painting in the collection of the Madonna and Child by the Florentine Master of Saint Cecilia of around 1295. The Getty’s collection also features The Adoration of the Magi with Saint Anthony Abbot, a rare and masterful example of the International Gothic style that dominated taste across Europe around 1400. The work, by an unknown artist, is one of very few northern European panel paintings of this period in any American museum.
Sharing the same theme is Andrea Mantegna’s The Adoration of the Magi. Painted on thin linen canvas, the 15th-century picture long ago was mistakenly varnished, causing it to darken and giving it a shiny surface very different from the original matte effect. Now, after painstaking treatment by conservators at the Getty Center, the picture has regained most of the peculiar combination of sophistication and delicacy Mantegna intended us to see.
Fra Bartolommeo’s The Flight into Egypt, a large panel with life size figures painted in about 1509 in Florence, is a major work of the High Renaissance, and the most important in America outside the East Coast. Another cornerstone of the collection is the famous Renaissance picture Portrait of a Halberdier by Pontormo. Paintings by Fra Angelico, Dosso Dossi, Correggio, and other great painters of the 15th and 16th centuries have also transformed the collection. In particular, one of the most important works in the Getty’s collection is Titian’s Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto, a 16th-century masterpiece by the leading exponent of Venetian Renaissance painting. This major picture ranks among the half dozen finest paintings by Titian held in this country. It joins important secular and religious paintings by him in the Getty’s collection and allows the museum’s public to see the full range of this artist.
Spanish paintings have come more slowly into the collection, which can now boast major examples by El Greco, Jusepe de Ribera, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and others.
Flemish and Dutch pictures of the 17th century are represented by a marvelous late Rembrandt, St. Bartholomew, whose meditative expression is reinforced by complex light and rich brushwork. The Getty also holds three early Rembrandt panels, of which The Abduction of Europa of 1632 is the best known. Meindert Hobbema’s landscape of about 1665 is a masterpiece of one of the greatest 17th-century Dutch genres.
As the collection has grown, more and more historical and thematic connections between pictures have become obvious. The young Rembrandt's biblical stories enacted by lively small figures, for instance, continue the tradition of Jan Brueghel, among others. Brueghel's The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark of 1613 shows a fabulous menagerie being gathered to go aboard the ark. It not only celebrates the wonder of God's creation but also implicitly boasts of the fact that Dutch and Flemish sailors had mastered the oceans and traveled to the four corners of the world to bring back living marvels. The Getty also holds one of Rubens's most beautiful modelli (smaller preliminary versions of large compositions that were shown to patrons for approval), The Miracles of St. Francis of Paola, which shows a swirl of courtiers, saints, and the afflicted being cured. Tiepolo's modello for the now destroyed ceiling painting in the church of the Scalzi in Venice is perhaps the Getty’s most important Italian picture of the 18th century. It is joined by his delightful cabinet picture Alexander the Great and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles. Other impressive Italian 18th-century pictures include those by Batoni, Bellotto, Canaletto, and other contemporaries.
The Getty’s collection of still lifes is crowned by Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gougères, Pots, and Cruets on a Table by the great 18th-century French painter Jean-Simèon Chardin, a celebrated master of the genre. Created at the height of Chardin’s powers, the commanding work ranks among the most significant 18th-century paintings in an America collection. It is also significant as it is thought to be Chardin’s final signed and dated still-life work. It joins a growing collection of 18th-century French paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Claude-Joseph Vernet, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Nicolas Lancret, as well as an important gallery devoted to pastels of the 18th through the 19th centuries including the popular portrait of a Maria Frederike van Reede-Athlone by Jean-Étienne Liotard.
Drawing has for centuries been seen as the foundation of artistic endeavor, widely practiced by artists to hone their skill, and used to create preparatory studies for paintings, sculptures and other works of art. Because of the spontaneous nature of this exploratory medium, drawings can trace the thought processes of artists, revealing their techniques and struggles to refine an idea before committing it to final form. As a first step towards a major project, a drawing can be an important artistic document. Beginning in the 1500s, the status of drawings began to change as they came to be collected and recognized as works of art in their own right.
The Getty’s collection of drawings numbers over 700 sheets, consisting of preparatory studies as well as independent works in various media including chalk, charcoal, crayon, ink, watercolor, metalpoint, and pencil. Many are by the most famous masters, including
Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo—three artists for whom the discipline of drawing was the basis of their entire far-reaching production, setting an example that defined the tradition of drawing for four centuries. The Getty’s collection of drawings by Rembrandt, perhaps the finest Dutch draftsman, is particularly strong. The German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, another key figure in any drawings collection, is represented at the Getty by 3 drawings, including his well known study of a stag beetle, evidence of Dürer's omnivorous curiosity about the natural world, a characteristic that ran through the art of Germany and the Netherlands for several centuries.
Drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries have recently been a particular focus for the Getty. Few Rococo works are as seductive as the Museum’s large study of a woman and child walking in a park by Thomas Gainsborough, who used broad strokes of chalk and pastel to render billowing fabric and foliage. The great French neoclassical master Jacques Louis David is represented by a group of drawings, including a grim profile portrait David made in prison of André Antoine Bernard, one of his revolutionary comrades during Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. The Getty’s collection also includes works by Francisco de Goya, Jean-François Millet, Édouard Manet, Georges Seurat, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec, and Vincent van Gogh, and a sketchbook by Edgar Degas, which features his studies of singers and dancers
The establishment of the Getty’s manuscripts department brought a unique resource to Los Angeles, greatly enriching the West Coast’s representation of medieval and Renaissance works. Today, the variety and quality of the collection make it the finest in the United States after that of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. With over 180 objects containing approximately 5,000 miniatures and historiated initials, covering more than 1,000 years and representing nearly every region of Europe, this important repository preserves a formidable art form that has since faded into history.
Meticulously crafted by hand and often decorated using gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and other precious materials, the Getty’s manuscripts hold some of the most beautiful works of art by the finest artists of their time. Private devotional books, missals, scripture, choir books, and secular works ranging from legal texts to histories and romances are all represented. They were assembled from a core group of over 100 manuscripts, originally owned by the German collector Peter Ludwig, which comprised masterpieces from across Europe, but had particular distinction in German, central European, and Flemish works. Numerous purchases since 1984 have added French, Italian, Belgian, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, English, and Czech examples to the collection. In recent years the Getty has developed particular strengths in French and Italian illumination. Among the early acquisitions were portions of the Hours of Simon de Varie, with miniatures by the greatest French painter of the 15th century, Jean Fouquet.
One of the greatest objects in the collection is the Stammheim Missal, a manuscript created in the 1100s for use at the Abbey of Saint Michael at Hildesheim. Painted in a style characterized by symmetrical compositions offset by alternating color schemes and patterns, the illuminations are dynamic, vibrant, and majestic. A 16th-century prayer book created by the esteemed Flemish artist Simon Bening for the powerful Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg is one of the collection’s finest works. Bening produced a sequence of 41 brilliantly colored, full-page miniatures to evoke an intense empathic response as the viewer contemplated Jesus' suffering. The important late 15th-century Franco Flemish manuscript The Visions of Tondal, with miniatures by Simon Marmion, is another highlight. The book tells the story of an errant knight who is given a preview of the fate awaiting the wicked after death. The text gave Marmion the opportunity to explore the landscape of Hell in all its variety and wonder, and he ingeniously summoned up the torments of the inferno in detail. Also of note is a magnificent copy of Boccaccio's The Fates of Illustrious Men and Women of about 1415, with more than 50 illustrations by the anonymous French artist known as the Boucicaut Master. The manuscript depicts the many ways the lives of notable people in history, specifically those who strove for power and glory, often came to unhappy ends.
Although a broad range of entire codices are held, there are also many beautiful individual miniatures and cuttings, orphans of richly decorated manuscripts that were unbound and dispersed in centuries past. One example is a brilliant initial with The Conversion of Saint Paul of around 1440–50, attributed to the great Italian painter Pisanello. The artist ingeniously worked into the letter S the episode of Saint Paul being thrown from his horse by God. The man in the tall hat, witnessing the sacred event, is likely the patron of the book that contained the initial. Another highlight is the magnificent Pentecost by Girolamo da Cremona of about 1470. The work is as stately and ample as a Bellini altarpiece of the same era, though a tiny fraction of the size.
The Getty’s holdings of medieval and Renaissance illumination continue to be a key area for growth due to their importance and originality as works of art, which also provide exceptionally rich insights into medieval and Renaissance culture. Finally, they offer a vital link between the Getty’s distinguished holdings in Greek and Roman antiquities and its European paintings from the Renaissance onward.
SCULPTURE AND DECORATIVE ARTS
The Getty’s collection of sculpture concentrates on works after about 1450. Highlights include a Renaissance bronze bust of a young man by the Mantuan artist Antico; a devotional statue of the Virgin and Child by Andrea Briosco, known as Riccio, made around 1520; and a previously unknown work, a marble bust of the infant Saint Cyricus by Francesco Laurana, the leading sculptor of Naples in the late 15th century.
The great strength of the sculpture collection is in works made by later Renaissance artists, especially in bronze. A Satyr by the great sculptor and autobiographer, Benvenuto Cellini, is complex in pose and alive with animal vigor. Giambologna's life size female nude is a youthful masterpiece, and not only a virtuoso performance of marble carving, but also the creation of a pose of such complexity that it served as a challenge and prototype for painters and other sculptors. The Getty’s collection is rich in such examples, for instance, a marvelous bronze juggler by Giambologna's best Northern follower, Adriaen de Vries, which embodies the sculptor’s taste for expression in a figure both balanced and agile. A similar approach is seen in a large bronze Mercury by Johan Gregor van der Schardt, de Vries's Flemish contemporary, that has a striking air of poise and refined grace.
One of the Getty’s most exciting purchases was the marble Boy with a Dragon, carved by the precocious Gianlorenzo Bernini who was around the age of 16 and soon to become the presiding genius of sculpture and architecture in Rome. The cheeky little boy, maybe an infant Hercules, defeats a dragon with as much ease as the boy sculptor demonstrates in mastering a difficult pose and undercutting the brittle marble.
The collection also includes a fine group of French sculptures in marble and bronze from the mid 16th through the 19th century. The most impressive ensemble is a pair of large bronze groups by François Girardon and Gaspard Marsy, both acquired with pedestals made by the Boulle workshop. There are also French terracottas, such as Clodion's amusing exercise in classicizing eroticism, in which a Vestal Virgin urges a hesitant girl toward a leering statue of Pan, whose lower parts are discreetly concealed by smoke from a censer.
There is an important group of sculpted portraits, not only from France but also from Italy, Holland, England, and Germany. One of the most memorable is Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of Marie-Sébastien-Charles-François Fontaine de Biré, the moving image of a dignified government official. Memorable in a different way is the bust portrait of an unknown man, carved in 1758 by the English sculptor Francis Harwood. The lustrous black stone mimics the skin of the man, who is portrayed with a resolute intelligence and seriousness that contrasts sharply with the racial stereotype so common at the time.
In 1952, Mr. Getty purchased the famous double desk by Bernard II van Risenburgh, a Rococo masterpiece. By 1954, his collection of decorative arts, which consisted of around 30 pieces of French furniture, was among the finest in the country. Today, the collection of decorative arts has grown and expanded. It is more coherent than the others, partly because it covers the shortest period of time and does so in greater depth and with greater consistent excellence.
At the Getty Center, the decorative arts collection occupies a suite of 14 galleries designed by Thierry Despont, in association with architect Richard Meier, that form a kind of museum-within-a-museum, incorporating original paneled rooms with other rooms designed in various period styles that suggest the contexts from which the pieces come.
Over the years, the Museum has made something of a specialty of the work of André-Charles Boulle and his Parisian atelier, which originated in the late 17th century. The Getty’s 18 pieces attributed to this genius—coffers, tables, cabinets, candle stands, and others—are extraordinary for their intricate marquetry, using veneers of ebony, brass, tortoiseshell, pewter, horn, and ivory, as well as many exotic woods. So naturalistic are the designs that individual flowers can be identified.
Since Mr. Getty's death, emphasis has been placed on furniture and objects of the Neoclassical period. These pieces demonstrate the diffusion of a newer, more severe and architectural style, often with motifs derived from newly excavated Roman houses at Pompeii and Herculaneum. One of the major examples is the rolltop desk of about 1785 by the German David Roentgen; another is from a group of pieces by the Parisian Martin Carlin decorated with porcelain plaques from the Sèvres manufactory.
The Getty’s holdings of decorative objects such as clocks, wall lights, candelabra, and hardstone vases has also increased. Among the most intriguing examples are a few 18th-century scientific instruments, including a spectacular bronze compound microscope in working condition, complete with natural specimens on slides and a carrying case of tooled leather lined with velvet.
Porcelain has been added as well. Highlights include two rare Sèvres vases in the shape of eggs, their blue bodies strewn with gilded dots. Oriental ceramics with Parisian gilt-bronze mounts have been a specialty of the collection—Japanese and Chinese pieces commissioned in Asia and brought from Amsterdam by Paris dealers to be fitted with bronze and silver. The resulting hybrid objects are fascinating evidence of the cultural contacts between Asia and the West. Tapestries are another strong point. The collection includes a splendid Emperor of China series.
Part of the appeal of all this material lies not only in its astonishing craftsmanship but also in its ability to suggest to visitors how a class of cultivated and wealthy people lived in the past. This is especially true of the Getty’s four paneled rooms. These include a neoclassical room of carved and painted decorations designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, the leading architect in late 18th century Paris.
The collection has also grown to include furniture and other works of decorative arts made outside France. Included are 28 Italian majolica objects of the Renaissance—rare, well preserved pieces of unusual beauty. Majolica gives us an interesting link to the ancient tradition of Greek vase painting so well represented at the Getty, and to the ceramics of France and Germany of the 18th-century.
One of the latest and most exciting additions to this collection is a group of over 50 pieces of rare and beautiful stained glass spanning the 13th to the 16th century. The Getty is now one of the largest repositories of stained glass in the country, with large works created for Gothic churches and cloisters, as well as lively heraldic panels made for houses, town halls, and other secular settings.
The Getty’s photographs collection began in 1984 with a series of major acquisitions, from the holdings of two of the most notable American collectors of their time—Samuel Wagstaff and Arnold Crane—as well as choice parts of André and Marie Thérèse Jammes's distinguished holding of French photographs, the collections of Bruno Bischofberger, and the joint holding of Volker Kahmen and George Heusch. In a short period, the Getty had assembled some 26,000 master photographs and thousands more in albums and books.
The initial works collected emphasized the earlier eras of photography and spanned the simultaneous development of the medium in England and France, from its birth in the 1830s through the 1860s. Included are major groups by such key European pioneers as William Henry Fox Talbot, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave Le Gray, Nadar, Roger Fenton, and Julia Margaret Cameron. The Getty also holds rare daguerreotypes made by the French photographic pioneer Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey. These include the earliest surviving photograph of the Parthenon and other ancient monuments in Greece, Italy, and the Holy Land. There are also American photographers represented in depth: daguerreotypes by Southworth and Hawes, early views of post Gold Rush California by Carleton Watkins, and Civil War scenes by Mathew Brady's assistants Timothy O'Sullivan and Alexander Gardner.
Photography represented the Getty Museum's debut in collecting 20th-century art as well. Among European and American modern masters in the collection are 226 works by Man Ray, 181 by Alfred Stieglitz, 147 by Paul Strand, 104 by László Moholy Nagy, 173 by Albert Renger Patzsch, 1,192 by Walker Evans, and about 1,200 works by August Sander. More recent additions include photographs by the great French modernist Eugène Atget, including examples from 1917 to 1925, the rarest and most sought-after period of the artist’s career. Known for his beguilingly ordinary street scenes of Paris, Atget’s work complements the Getty’s collection of photographs of old Paris by Charles Marville.
Often the greatest finds, however, were single pictures. The River Scene of 1858 by Camille Silvy, for instance, was a famous image in its time, a perfectly composed view of a river fully in the spirit of contemporary French paintings, yet exact in a way that only the new art of photography could be. A key 1996 purchase—a daguerreotype view by John Plumbe, Jr., of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., made in 1846 before the present day Senate and House wings were added—is the finest and earliest photograph of this building in existence. In 2001 the Museum was fortunate to be able to acquire a splendid, highly detailed and unique photograph by Roger Fenton of the interior of the billiard room at Mentmore, a Rothschild house in Buckinghamshire. The most important acquisition of 2004 was the best surviving of two known prints of Carleton Watkins’s Agassiz Rock, Yosemite, of about 1880, an acquisition that complements in important the existing collection of more than 300 Watkins photographs.
Getty Communications Dept.
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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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