Add an Article Add an Event Edit

The J. Paul Getty Museum

1200 Getty Center Drive
310-440-7300

The Founder and His Vision

Fortune magazine called Jean Paul Getty the richest man in the world in 1957, but most people had never heard of him. Born in 1892 in Minneapolis and raised as an only child, he was introduced to the oil business by his lawyer father. A roustabout and wildcatter in the Oklahoma oil fields, Getty became a millionaire by the time he was 23. By the 1960s, his company Getty Oil became one of the largest oil companies in the world.

"Paul," as his friends called him, was a self-avowed non-conformist. He was always suspicious of conventional wisdom in business, art, and life. Others described him as an eccentric, a playboy, a genius, and a tightwad. He was famously married five times and had five sons. In his autobiographical writings, he proclaimed himself a failure at marriage. In business, however, Getty was remarkably successful. 

He collected art with the same eye for underappreciated value that he had for a salt dome covering a rich pool of oil deep beneath it. Prizing beauty for its permanence, he preferred the art of royals and aristocrats from western history: Greek and Roman sculpture, paintings of Renaissance masters, and furniture of 18th century European monarchs. Though he delighted in the tax deductions that accrued when he donated his art to museums, he also demonstrated a genuine desire to share his art with the public. 

For years Getty traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East in search of oil and art. He converted part of his Ranch House in Malibu, California (today, Pacific Palisades), into a museum so that he could share his art treasures with the public. After 1951, he never returned to California, though he continued to call it home for another 25 years.

Late in life Getty conceived the idea of building a major museum on his ranch property. He decided that it would be a near replica of the Roman Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, which had been buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Critics derided the Villa as a gimmick when it opened in 1974, but the public loved it. 

From his home outside London, Getty supervised its operations, approving every new acquisition. He proudly displayed the architectural model of the Villa but kept spending to a bare minimum, refusing even to pay for climate control for his works of art. Consistently, he cautioned the Museum's staff that the institution would have to survive on the original $40 million endowment he had provided. He never revealed that in his will he had left virtually his entire estate to the institution in trust, giving it a greater endowment than any other museum in the world. 

Upcoming Events at The J. Paul Getty Museum

Exhibition: Photo Flux Unshuttering LA

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - In Focus: Protest

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - The Expanded Landscape

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - Mario Giacomelli: Figure/Ground

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - Paolo Veneziano: Art and Devotion in 14th-Century Venice

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - Silk and Swan Feathers: A Luxurious 18th-Century Armchair

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition: Photo Flux Unshuttering LA

Friday, Sep 24, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - In Focus: Protest

Friday, Sep 24, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - The Expanded Landscape

Friday, Sep 24, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - Mario Giacomelli: Figure/Ground

Friday, Sep 24, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - Paolo Veneziano: Art and Devotion in 14th-Century Venice

Friday, Sep 24, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - Silk and Swan Feathers: A Luxurious 18th-Century Armchair

Friday, Sep 24, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition: Photo Flux Unshuttering LA

Saturday, Sep 25, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - In Focus: Protest

Saturday, Sep 25, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Exhibition - The Expanded Landscape

Saturday, Sep 25, 2021 from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
Read More »

Recent News

College Night at the Getty Center: Dreaming in Color

Come enjoy a night exclusively by and for college students at the Getty Center. It's free! This year College Night celebrates color - color in art and in our dreams, the science of color, and the possibilities of a more colorful future.…

Read More »

Exhibition - All That Glitters - Life At The Renaissance Court At Getty Center

The Renaissance courts of Europe were meant to dazzle—courtiers feasting at lavish tables and knights in gleaming armor might spring to mind. Life at court was certainly lavish, but everything from prayer to the display of heraldry was…

Read More »

Exhibition - The Renaissance Nude At Getty Center

Renaissance artists transformed the course of western art history by making the nude central to their art. Drawing inspiration from classical sculpture and the study of the live model, these artists created lifelike, vibrant, and sensual…

Read More »

Exhibition - The Flight Into Egypt: Drawings In Context At Getty Center

Warned by an angel that King Herod sought to find and kill the infant Jesus, Joseph and Mary took the child to safety in Egypt, according to a short account in the Gospel of Matthew. Over the centuries, many artists have depicted the Holy…

Read More »

Exhibition - Art Of Three Faiths: A Torah, A Bible, And A Qur’an At Getty Center

One of the most elaborately illuminated copies of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible created in the Middle Ages, the Rothschild Pentateuch is the first Hebrew manuscript to be added to the collection of the Getty Museum. Its acquisition allows…

Read More »

Exhibition - LA Unshuttered At Getty Center

Teens Reframing Life in Los Angeles This special installation showcases the work of 23 Los Angeles-area high school students who lifted their cameras and their voices to advocate for social justice in a program called Getty Unshuttered. Each of…

Read More »

Exhibition - Icons Of Style - A Century Of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011 At The J. Paul Getty Museum

Icons Of Style - A Century Of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011 Why do some fashion photographs transcend their commercial character to function as works of art, while others do not. In part, the answer lies in the ability of a fashion photograph to…

Read More »

Exhibition - Beyond The Nile Egypt And The Classical World At The J. Paul Getty Museum

Egypt, the most ancient of the Mediterranean civilizations, held a great fascination for the Greeks and Romans. This major international loan exhibition explores the artistic interplay between these cultures from the Bronze Age to Roman times. The…

Read More »

Exhibition - A Queen's Treasure From Versailles At The J.Paul Getty Museum

Marie-Antoinette's Japanese Lacquer This exhibition showcases Japanese lacquer from the private collection of the French queen Marie-Antoinette. Her collection of small lacquer boxes was one of the finest in Europe, and she considered it to be…

Read More »

Exhibition - In Focus: Expressions At The J. Paul Getty Museum

In photography, the human face has always been a subject of intense fascination. Initially after the medium’s invention in the early nineteenth century, technological limitations and portrait conventions constrained sitters’ expressions.…

Read More »