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J. Paul Getty family collected papers, 1880s-1989, undated (bulk 1911-1977)

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Getty (J. Paul) family collected papers, circa 1880s-1989, undated

Biographical Note

American oil tycoon and art collector Jean Paul Getty was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on December 15, 1892 to George Franklin Getty (1855-1930) and Sarah Catherine McPherson Risher Getty (1852-1941). George was an attorney and insurance executive whose 1903 visit to Indian Territory (a region that became part of the State of Oklahoma in 1907) inspired him to purchase land and begin drilling, launching his career in the petroleum industry. In 1905 the Getty family moved to Los Angeles, but George maintained his oil business in Oklahoma, traveling to the oil fields periodically. Jean Paul, called "Paul," attended a private military school before going on to college. He first attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and later transferred to the University of California, Berkeley (1909 to 1911). In November of 1912 he began his studies at Magdalen College at Oxford University in England and received a diploma in Politics and Economics in June 1913. He then enhanced his education by means of a Grand Tour of Europe, viewing art collections and ancient ruins that sparked his interest in art and antiquities. He also toured parts of the Middle East and North Africa before returning to the United States in September of 1914.

In 1914, Paul joined the family petroleum business and spent a year in the oil fields of Oklahoma. An astute investment in 160 acres near Stone Bluff, Oklahoma led to Paul's announcement two years later that he had earned his first million dollars. He then lived the carefree life of a rich young bachelor in Los Angeles for more than a year before his father convinced him to return to the oil business in Oklahoma. Soon thereafter Paul persuaded his father to shift the focus of the family business operations to the Los Angeles basin. Paul continued to work for the family company in addition to conducting oil drilling of his own, securing the family fortune by the time the stock market crashed in 1929. Upon his death in 1930, George left controlling interest in the company to Sarah. In 1934 Paul forced Sarah out of control of the company and gave her an annuity. His fortune grew as he acquired the controlling interest in several companies and became the head of a vast organization with activities in oil exploration, transportation, production and marketing, as well as minerals, manufacturing, real estate and agriculture. In the mid-1940s Paul bought the Saudi Arabian portion of the lease on the mineral rights in the Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; his wealth dramatically increased when this site produced oil in 1953.

Beginning in the early 1930s, J. Paul Getty lived in a house he built next to William Randolph Hearst's on the beach in Santa Monica. During World War II he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma for four years to supervise wartime production of parts for Allied aircraft at his Spartan Aircraft plant. In 1945 he purchased 64 acres in Malibu, California and renovated the existing hacienda, known as the Ranch House, where he lived until 1951. When Getty departed the United States for Europe in 1951, he kept his Malibu estate for the display of his art collection and for his eventual return to California. The J. Paul Getty Museum Trust was incorporated in December 1953; The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Ranch House opened to the public in April 1954.

Getty had been collecting art since the 1930s. In 1938 he made his first major purchases: a group of furniture; a carpet that had belonged to Louis XIV, often called the "Ardabil Carpet"; and Rembrandt's Marten Looten (he donated the Ardabil Carpet and the Rembrandt to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1954). Another of his strong interests was antiquities, inspired by his travels throughout Europe and by visits to the Vatican Museums. He took pride in being knowledgeable in the areas in which he was collecting and in finding bargains. Getty continued to collect art throughout his lifetime, despite occasional assertions that he was no longer in the market. While some objects were expressly purchased for the Getty Museum, Mr. Getty also maintained a personal art collection, some of which was on long-term loan to the museum. By 1968 his art collection had begun to outgrow the Ranch House and he began planning a new building on the property to properly house these works. He chose to pattern this new museum building after a first-century Roman country house, based primarily on the plans of the ancient Villa dei Papiri near Herculaneum. This museum, often called the Getty Villa, opened to the public on January 16, 1974.

After leaving the United States in 1951, Getty lived in hotel suites in Europe until 1960 when he moved to Sutton Place, a historic 72-room Tudor manor located 25 miles southwest of London. In 1957 Fortune magazine designated Getty as the world's wealthiest man, and he became the object of considerable public interest. For the rest of his life, both the respectable press and the tabloids reported on his perceived eccentricities and his private life, which included five marriages and divorces. J. Paul Getty died in England on June 6, 1976 without ever returning to California. Although he never saw the museum, he is buried at the Getty Villa property on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Much to everyone's surprise, Getty left the bulk of his fortune to the museum, requesting that the funds be employed to promote "the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge."

J. Paul Getty's publications include:

  • Getty, J. Paul. The history of the oil business of George F. and J. Paul Getty from 1903 to 1939. Los Angeles (?), 1941.
  • Getty, J. Paul. Europe in the eighteenth century. [Santa Monica, Calif.]: privately printed, 1949.
  • Le Vane, Ethel, and J. Paul Getty. Collector's choice: the chronicle of an artistic odyssey through Europe. London: W.H. Allen, 1955.
  • Getty, J. Paul. My life and fortunes. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1963.
  • Getty, J. Paul. The joys of collecting. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965.
  • Getty, J. Paul. How to be rich. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1965.
  • Getty, J. Paul. The golden age. New York: Trident Press, 1968.
  • Getty, J. Paul. How to be a successful executive. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1971.
  • Getty, J. Paul. As I see it: the autobiography of J. Paul Getty. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall, 1976.




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