The Getty: What Would You Do If You Had A Billion Dollars?

by | Mar 16, 2017 | California, Los Angeles: The Getty Villa If I had a Billion Dollars, United States | 2 comments

What Would You Do If You Had A Billion Dollars?


Would you become a Good Deed Doer?

In the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man wants a heart. The Wizard describes a philanthropist as someone with a big heart:

The Wizard: [To the Tin Man] As for you, my galvanized friend – you want a heart!

You don’t know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.


The Tin Man: But I– I still want one.


The Wizard: Back where I come from, there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila-, er, er, philanth-er, good-deed doers!

What good deeds would you do if you had a billion dollars?

When J. Paul Getty died in 1976, he left a fortune in Getty Oil stock, worth $700 million (equivalent to $3 billion today), to his small art museum that had opened to the public just 2 years before his death. His instructions provided that the funds were to be used for:

a museum, gallery of art, and library for the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge

Today, Getty’s endowment is worth $6.3 billion, making the Getty Center the richest museum in the world. Last week, we explored the architecture, gardens and views from the Getty Center. This week, we will go inside and see the art!

J. Paul Getty: Whose Remarkable Gift Made Possible This Unique Institution


The Getty Center is more like an uber-modern university campus than a museum. Getty’s legacy brings art to the world with exhibitions, publications, research and education. Its new President and CEO, James Cuno, is putting his stamp on the Getty with his priority on art digitization:

To make the Getty relevant in the modern age, Cuno is turning the institution into the leading evangelist of art digitization:

I do not want to make incremental change but to fundamentally change the way we do art history. We can harness the potential of big data in different ways.

Part of that effort is the millions poured into digitizing vast libraries through the Getty Research Portal, where materials are available online for free, while pushing the conservative museum world at large to similarly publish their material online.

[Behind the Scenes at the Getty]

Here is more information on the democratization of information, learning and art through the Getty Research Portal:

The Getty Research Portal™ is a free online search platform providing worldwide access to an extensive collection of digitized art history texts from a range of institutions. This multilingual and multicultural union catalog affords art historians and other researchers the ability to search and download complete digital copies of publications devoted to art, architecture, material culture, and related fields.

 Big Data brings art into your home



Van Gogh’s Irises is a highlight of the art collection


Van Gogh’s Irises set a world record for the highest price ever paid for art

Van Gogh lived in poverty and sold only one painting in his lifetime. He painted Irises the year before his death by suicide in 1890. In 1987, the world was astounded at the auction price for Van Gogh’s Irises

If you want to know more about Van Gogh, you can link to an earlier post when we visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ Sells for $53.9 Million


Van Gogh’s glowing ”Irises” -painted in 1889 during the artist’s first week at the asylum at St.-Remy – was sold at Sotheby’s in New York last night for $53.9 million, the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction.


The fierce bidding for the Van Gogh masterpiece was witnessed by an international gathering of about 2,200 collectors, dealers, museum curators and officials, a standing-room-only crowd that watched the proceedings in person and over closed-circuit television.


There was a gasp throughout the room as the auctioneer began the bidding at $15 million. Bidding progressed in $1-million increments.


Sidney Janis, the 91-year-old dean of the dealers in the room, was thoughtful.

I never thought I’d live to see a painting sell for such a price,” he said. ”I wonder if there is any painting in the world that would sell for more.


Van Gogh’s record price for art stood for less than 3 years. Since then, art prices have gone even more stratospheric.

Now the record for the most expensive painting is $300 million for Interchange, also known as Interchanged, painted in 1955 by abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. It was purchased in 2015 by Kenneth C. Griffin for $300 million. It is on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago.

With paintings now selling in the neighbourhood of $300 million, you will be able to buy 3 paintings if you had a billion dollars.


The Getty Buys Turner’s Modern Rome for $44.9 Million


In 2010, The Getty bought Modern Rome at auction in London. It was subject to an export bar to allow a British buyer to come forward. That didn’t happen.

Turner painted Modern Rome at the peak of his career. The painting is in its original frame chosen by Turner. It is is remarkable condition because it has always been protected by glass.



In addition to its permanent collection, the Getty also hosts special exhibits. We were lucky to visit the current exhibition devoted to Edmé Bouchardon, a French sculptor for the royals.

The highlight of the Bouchardon exhibit is his Cupid sculpture

This is the exit from the Bouchardon Exhibit


We spent a long time at the Getty Center, taking in the art, architecture and spectacular views of L.A.

But wait, there’s more …. The Getty Museum has two locations!

It is time to take the monorail back to our car and drive over to the original site of the Getty Museum: The Getty Villa.

This is the entrance to the Getty Villa, designed to create an atmosphere of entering an archaeological dig


Paul Getty made his first million in the oil fields when he was 24 years old. Through shrewd investments during the Great Depression, he parlayed his million into hundreds of millions. By the time he was 65, he was the richest person in the world.

Getty started his art collection during the Depression. He spent months in Europe, buying ancient Greek and Roman art for a fraction of its pre-depression prices.

Getty decided to share his passion for art with the world. In 1954, he converted part of his Malibu ranch house into a museum and opened it to the public. When his collection outgrew his house, he began construction of a separate museum on his property. The design for the museum was inspired by a Roman villa discovered in ruins near Pompeii. The Getty Villa opened in 1974 but Getty never saw it. He had moved to England in the late 1950’s and never returned to the United States.

Getty died in 1976, two years after the Getty Villa opened. The fortune in oil stock that he left to the Getty Villa made it the wealthiest art museum in the world. This colossal endowment provided the funds for the new Getty Center.

The drive from the Getty Center to the Getty Vila is about half an hour. As with the Getty Center, admission to the Getty Villa is free. However, you need to book ahead and get a timed entrance. The $15 parking charge covers parking at both the Center and the Villa.


Pay once and park twice when you visit both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa on the same day

The Roman amphitheatre is used for live performances

The amphitheater makes a terrific backdrop for photos

You will get dizzy if you stare at these floor tiles for very long


I love the optical illusion in the mosaic tiles in the entrance to the central courtyard in the Getty Villa.

You can just see the tips of my shoes in the bottom of the photo (would have worn nicer shoes if I had known that I needed the shoes to give perspective to the tiles)

This is the main courtyard in the Getty Villa


There was no water in the pool in the main courtyard. Now that the drought is over in California, perhaps the pool will be filled again.

After we strolled all around the main courtyard, we stumbled upon a lovely herb garden.

This is the central courtyard in the Getty Villa


The Getty Villa has wonderful collections of ancient Greek and Roman antiquities.

The Getty Villa has also had its share of antiquities scandals. After protracted negotiations and accusations, the Getty agreed to return over 40 items that Italy claimed were looted.

ROME, 2007 — After long negotiations, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has agreed to hand over 40 objects from its antiquities collection that Italy contends were looted from its soil.


A fifth-century B.C. statue of a cult deity usually identified as Aphrodite, one of the Getty’s prized pieces, is among the works to be returned to Italy.


It is unclear what effect — if any — the agreement will have on the legal fate of the Getty’s former antiquities curator Marion True, who has been on trial in Italy since 2005 on charges of trafficking in looted art.


Several of the pieces that the Getty agreed to return are part of the prosecution’s case against Ms. True and Robert Hecht, an American antiquities dealer who is on trial with her in Rome. Both deny any wrongdoing.


As the Getty’s antiquities curator from 1986 to 2005, Ms. True oversaw the acquisition of many of the disputed objects, among them the Aphrodite.


The artifacts range from heroic Greek marble sculptures to delicate red- and black-figured serving vessels to vivid fragments of frescoes.


It is the biggest handover Italy has negotiated with a museum so far in its campaign to retrieve classical artifacts and crack down on the plundering of what it sees as its archaeological heritage.


In 2006 Italy reached similar pacts with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, agreeing to lend important works of art to those institutions and to collaborate on research projects and exhibitions in exchange for the return of ancient treasures.


Even though 40 items have been returned to Italy, there is plenty to see at the Getty Villa

This beautiful little fountain is at the back of the central courtyard

The hills outside the Villa are bursting with spring green colours

A friendly tourist took our picture in front of this lovely mosaic fountain


We certainly enjoyed our experience at both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. We were very appreciative of how J. Paul Getty used his fortune to share his love of art and architecture with the world.


What would you do if you had a billion dollars?

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray