Last updated 11/3/2006 at Noon
The Getty Museums in Los Angeles and Malibu are overwhelming because of the staggering amount of artwork included in the collection. It would take several visits to various metropolitan centers of Europe to view such a wide variety of art objects from the Western world.
J. Paul Getty, an American who was interested in sharing his love of art with the public, commissioned the first museum to be built in Malibu. The structure, completed in 1974, is a replica of a Roman villa, which was buried in ash during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. That museum was closed in 1997 but reopened in January of this year.
When I was younger, I visited the collection for the first time with my grandmother. I remember discovering that some of the Greek statues had remnants of red paint in the curve of the lips. Until that visit I had assumed that the marble or alabaster statutes had always been white, but a museum staff member explained that it had been a practice at that time to paint statues with vibrant colors.
For my first visit to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles this September I had no such epiphany but was elated at the prospect of viewing such an extensive art collection without suffering from jetlag! The treasures are housed in a striking modern edifice perched atop the Santa Monica Mountains with a sweeping view of the Los Angeles basin.
Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities abound -- antiquities such as a Roman wall fragment, AD 50; a bust from Greece, 580 BC; and a pair of Etruscan candlesticks from 500 BC. One of the oldest items is a Cycladic storage jar, which dates back to 3200 BC. More recent art treasures include works by Renoir, Degas, Monet, van Gogh, Goya, Rembrandt, Raphael, Rubens and Gauguin, among other masters.
Medieval manuscripts, including Bibles, are displayed in subdued lighting and are still brilliantly illustrated with entire scenes painted within a single letter. Medieval tapestry scenes are known as “verdures” because of their rich green, or verdant, tones. Even today, several hundred years later, it is amazing how the reds are still rich and the greens and blues vibrant.
I lingered in the exquisitely decorated 18th Century French rooms, which were a collection of decor from the Baroque and Rococo periods. Molded ceilings and walls provided the focal point for the furnishings, which included ornate gilded couches and chairs, musical instruments, clocks and crystal chandeliers. A gilded beech French bed, which is curiously called a “Turkish Bed,” resembles an overgrown sofa and is covered in silk brocade.
According to the Getty Museum Web site, “When the Disney animators were looking for inspiration for the settings in ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ they took a tour of the 18th Century decorative arts here at the Getty.” My mother enjoyed the French rooms because she felt she was “almost there.”
The painting collections are outstanding and one of my favorites was “The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light,” an oil on canvas by Claude Monet painted in 1894. He painted blue early morning light breaking over the spires of the cathedral. The sky and the cathedral are almost the same color, but the subtle differences make for a mysterious and spiritual rendition. The light illuminates the spires, slowly fading to dark. The morning light has not yet stretched to the base of the cathedral, leaving it in muted darkness.
I also enjoyed viewing Vincent van Gogh’s “Irises” painted in 1889, a year before his death. The irises were painted in the garden of an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. It has been a favorite painting since I first saw it at van Gogh’s 100-Year Anniversary Exhibition in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Private collectors and museums from all over the world had loaned paintings to the Rijksmuseum for this amazing 1990 exhibit, which marked the 100th anniversary of van Gogh’s death.
The “Irises” work has been a mystery to me because he painted delicate blue irises with one slightly larger, not as delicate, white iris. Why the one white iris? Did the white iris symbolize his life? Was it larger because he was aware of his genius? Did van Gogh feel like he was a white iris in a field of blue? At the Getty Museum you can view this incredible painting, and hundreds of others, then ask your own questions.
The Getty Center Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Free admission, parking $8
Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday
10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday
10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Web site: http://www.getty.edu