Giddy at the Getty

J. Paul Getty was an oil magnate who traveled and learned to appreciate the antiquities of Greece and Rome. He was an avid collector and showed pieces he acquired in his Malibu mission-style ranch house. Although he lived in London most of his later life, he commissioned the Getty Villa to be built in Los Angeles to house his artwork but never saw the villa.

The Getty Villa simulates a Roman villa from Herculaneum, a town that was buried from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. While Pompeii is better known for the entire city that was excavated, the site at Herculaneum was closer to Vesuvius and was preserved intact under 65 feet of ash and lava.

The villa that Getty copied was owned by a Roman senator whose daughter was married to Julius Caesar. The senator was quite wealthy and influential, and the house was 60,000 sf. The Getty Villa is a small replica of the Roman one and contains an amphitheater for Greek plays, a peristyle or colonnade surrounding an atrium for dining and social meetings, and rooms above to house slaves.

Getty clearly got addicted to acquiring Greek and Roman artifacts. Once he accumulated all of these possessions, he had to build a museum to house them. Stephen Garrett, an architect, was hired to research, design and build the villa. Machado and Silvetti were also involved in the design of the site.

Photos, from top, left to right:
1. Entrance Plaque to the Getty
2. Detail of Greek Terra Cotta Dish, ca. 450 BC
3. Detail of Roman Sculpture, ca. 150 AD
4. Exterior Garden and Pool

The Getty Center, also built with Getty Foundation funds after Getty’s death, took more than 20 years to complete from inception to opening. It was designed expressly for the preservation of Western Art at the cost of $1 Billion and as part of a lawsuit. Family members were engaged in a bitter battle over the inheritance, and the only resolution was to build the museum. Twenty years ago, I was disappointed that funds were not devoted to building a higher education institution. The UCSF Mission Bay Campus would have cost about $1 Billion.

However, with all the museums I have visited this past year, I have revised my opinion. The Getty Center has become a vibrant and relevant educational institution on its own merits. I certainly witnessed many diverse visitors enjoying the buildings, exhibitions, and gardens. The Turner exhibition and the WWI Images special exhibition at the Research Center were both excellent and well curated. With a variety of visual aids, visitors were engaged in learning about the artists and the subject matter. For some reason I was more aware of the level of activity and engagement at both locations than what I normally notice at other museums. Both museums are free.

Photos, from top, left to right:

1. I-405 Freeway Access to Getty Center; a Monorail takes visitors from Parking Lot to Center at top of hill
2. Approach to Main Plaza
3. Main Plaza
4. Research Center. Buildings are designed by Richard Meier, a prominent New York architect. He moved to the site to determine placement of buildings. Flooring, panels and windows are designed to the architect’s signature 30″ grid. The Center opened in 2006.

Being located at the northern end of Los Angeles, the Getty Villa in Malibu and the Getty Center off I-405 are worth grouping for a day-long tour of both. Unfortunately getting to both requires a car.


1. Exhibit from WWI Images.Map by Walter Trier, an artist who illustrated books for Eric Kastner. Each European country is a sinister character.
2. Henry Moore Sculpture, 1983
3. Chart showing personalities of each European Country, divided by “Futurists” and traditionalists or those against progress.

1. Burl texture (see Sacto Dreamin’ video from November)
2. Super gigantic fig tree in garden of Fairmont Miramar Hotel, Santa Monica.
3. Acanthus leaves in garden at Getty Villa, similar to those represented on Corinthian columns

2 thoughts on “Giddy at the Getty”

  1. Hmmm…I wonder if they are in need of a caretaker!I would move in a heartbeat. The tree reminded me of a burl forest we visited once along the coast. Thanks for sharing! Love traveling with YOU.


    1. Two questions I finally got resolved–what does wood burl coveted in furniture design really look like, and what do the leaves from Corinthian columns in classical architecture look like in live form. While the acanthus looks like a fairly ordinary plant, the burl texture is unique. Do you think the gnarls come from broken branches, or are they just knots with growth around them? Hmm, probably a Wiki wonder. As for being a caretaker, it wouldn’t be too shabby. The climate along Malibu is perfect. The location felt similar to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. This complex came much later but seems to have the same spectacular effect. Although Getty had already died before the complex was built, (he is buried somewhere on the grounds that are not public), the “Villa” is more of a mausoleum with no living quarters other than what was designed as part of the Roman villa reproduction.


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