Director's Choice: Getty Museum Acquisitions 2019


In the space of some fifty years, the Getty Museum has become one of the world’s major collections of European art from antiquity to 1900, and of international photography up to the present day. Selected by museum director Timothy Potts, this inaugural review highlights select works added to the collection in 2019.

Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25 (1912) by Vilhelm HammershøiThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25

Vilhelm Hammershøi is renowned for his austere, meditative depictions of the interiors of his Copenhagen apartments, which doubled as his studios. Bredgade 25 refers to the address of the apartment shown here. The impression of stillness and silence is palpable, the only action being the play of cold, Nordic light in the sparsely furnished space. A shimmering weave of thin, textured brushstrokes softens the geometrical rigor of the composition and creates a sense of atmosphere, helping transform the everyday subject into something hauntingly poetic.

Corpus Christi (about 1490–1500) by Veit StossThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Corpus Christi

Intended for private devotion, this statuette offers a compelling depiction of the crucified Christ with a dramatic, expressive face and a captivatingly realistic body. Viet Stoss achieved fame for his exceptional virtuosity in carving wood, as seen here in the highly detailed curls of the hair and beard, the folds and fringe of the drapery, the swollen veins in Christ’s arms and legs, the wrinkles of his knees and feet, and the delicate features of his face. The leading sculptor of his generation, Stoss worked in both Germany and Poland. His distinctive, influential style was equally renowned in Italy, thanks to several commissions from Florentine patrons.

Engraved Scaraboid with a Grasshopper (425–400 B.C.) by Unknown, GreekThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Engraved Gems

Seventeen gems were added to the Getty's collection in 2019, which include Greek, Etruscan, and Roman examples that range in date from 1600 BC to AD 138, a few of which are presented here. They were collected in the early twentieth century by the noted Italian connoisseur and art dealer Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886–1965), who sought out the finest specimens from old European collections. 

Engraved Scaraboid with Perseus (400–350 BC) by Unknown (Greek)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Engraved Scaraboid with Perseus

The Greek hero Perseus, wearing the winged sandals and diadem lent to him by the god Hermes, treads lightly, his left hand raised to his lips in a gesture of thoughtful concentration. He carries two spears, one with a sickle-shaped blade to decapitate the monstrous Gorgon Medusa. The sophisticated pose and exceptional treatment of musculature are characteristic of the best artistic work of the late Classical period.

Intaglio with Bust of Demosthenes (about 25 BC) by DioskouridesThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Portrait of Demosthenes

Demosthenes (384–322 BC), an Athenian statesman who was greatly admired by the Romans for his effective oratory, is shown in frontal view on this deeply engraved amethyst ring stone.

In minute Greek letters alongside the bust is the signature of the gem carver Dioskourides, whom ancient writers name as the illustrious court engraver for the emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC–AD 14). This stone is one of only eight works certainly attributable to the famous artist.

Intaglio with Bust of Antinous (AD 131–138) by Unknown (Roman)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Intaglio with Bust of Antinous

Antinous, the young companion and lover of emperor Hadrian (ruled AD 117–138), drowned in the river Nile during their visit to Egypt in AD 130. The grief-stricken emperor instituted a cult in honor of the youth, who was revered as a semi divine hero. He was depicted in various guises—as Dionysos, Osiris, or a heroic hunter. On this large and celebrated gem he is shown wearing a cloak and carrying a hunting spear over his shoulder. 

Funerary relief of Hadirat Katthina, daughter of Sha'ad (A.D. 200–220) by Unknown, PalmyranThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Funerary Relief of Hadirat Katthina, Daughter of Sha’ad

The inhabitants of ancient Palmyra, strategically located at an oasis in the Syrian Desert, grew rich controlling trade routes for spices and other luxury goods transported between the Mediterranean and the Middle East, India, and beyond. Their elaborate communal tombs commemorated the dead with high-relief portraits carved on slabs that sealed the individual grave niches. Here a woman elegantly dressed in a fringed cloak, turban, and veil wears earrings, a necklace, and a ring that communicate her high status. Originally painted and gilded, such images of the dead draw on both Roman and Persian sculptural traditions but also reflect local fashions.

She is named in the Palmyran Aramaic inscription: “Hadirat Katthina, daughter of Sha’ad, alas!”

Portrait of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1636) by Claude MellanThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Portrait of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc

Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637) was a Provençal collector and polymath whose areas of expertise ranged from archaeology to zoology. He was also a friend and patron of the great seventeenth-century French printmaker, Claude Mellan. This portrait dates to 1636, when Mellan visited Peiresc, who was in failing health. Physically frail and careworn, but fiercely—indeed, almost alarmingly—present, Peiresc looks back at us from Mellan’s tiny sheet (it measures a diminutive 5.68" × 4.3") with all the blazing intensity of his formidable intellect. The chalk design served as the basis for an engraved portrait, published after Peiresc’s death in 1637.

Head of an Old Woman (about 1582) by Annibale CarracciThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Head of an Old Woman

Annibale Carracci and other artists in his circle working in Bologna in the late sixteenth century brought a renewed emphasis on the direct study of nature to Italian art. This intense life study of an elderly woman is a remarkable achievement of dynamic observation. The sitter, wearing simple everyday work clothes, gazes steadily through blue-grey eyes. The swift, virtuoso brushwork of the sketch is emphasized by the artist’s use of a sheet of old ledger paper.

Strategically applied paint allows the text to show through in places, a feature noticeable in the careful handling around the eye sockets, where a few words and marks are left visible as virtual eyebrows.

Fishermen on the River Zschopau by Kriebstein Castle, Saxony (about 1785) by Adrian ZinggThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Fishermen on the River Zschopauby Kriebstein Castle

Adrian Zingg’s large, perfectly preserved sheet is an autonomous work of art. The scene shows fishermen on the bank of the river Zschopau in Germany, with Kriebstein Castle rising in the background.

Zingg meticulously recorded elements of the Saxon landscape by delineating outlines in fine pen strokes, filling them in with graded tones of brown wash, and leaving reserves of white paper as highlights.

Study of a Nude Man Posed as Bacchus (about 1685) by Antoine CoypelThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Study of a Nude Man Posed as Bacchus

Antoine Coypel drew this powerful nude from a live model, using black and white chalk to articulate the torso, arms, and right knee but barely indicating other areas: the head, which he may have studied in a separate drawing, and the thighs, which he probably intended to cover with drapery in the finished painting that this drawing prepares.

A drinking cup in the model’s hand suggests that he was meant to play the role of Bacchus, god of wine and autumn. Coypel included a similar figure in a ceiling painting portraying the four seasons.

Spring in the Alps (1897) by Giovanni SegantiniThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Spring in the Alps

"Spring in the Alps" is a luminous hymn to the cyclical revitalization of nature. The painting, which Giovanni Segantini ranked among his masterpieces, was commissioned in 1897 by Jacob Stern, a San Francisco collector and director of Levi Strauss & Co., and was executed at the peak of the painter’s short career.

It features a panoramic Swiss landscape animated by a solemn peasant leading two draft horses, a burly farmer sowing seeds, and a bushy-tailed mountain dog.

Densely layered and rhythmically patterned strokes of distinct, bright colors capture the crisp, radiant atmosphere of the alpine scene and create a highly tactile, almost tapestry-like surface.

Menorah of the Tabernacle, Book of Leviticus, from Rothschild Pentateuch (1287) by UnknownThe J. Paul Getty Museum

The Rothschild Pentateuch

The Rothschild Pentateuch is one of the most elaborately illuminated Torahs created in the Middle Ages and the first Hebrew manuscript to enter the Getty’s collection. The Pentateuch (a Torah in the strictest sense) contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as well as other writings. The manuscript takes its name from the famed Rothschild family, who owned it in the early twentieth century. By 1920 the family had donated the manuscript to Frankfurt’s university library, where it stayed during World War II. In the 1950s it was transferred to a Jewish family, from whom the Getty acquired it. The vitality of the illuminations and the powerful beauty of its letterforms place the Rothschild Pentateuch among the great masterpieces of Hebrew book illumination.

King David in Penitence (about 1480) by Master of the Houghton MiniaturesThe J. Paul Getty Museum

King David in Penitence

The masterful rendering of King David suggests the regent’s remorse for his sometimes willful behavior, while the detailed cityscape receding into the distance establishes the artist’s extraordinary skill in creating a convincing sense of depth. Originally part of a Christian prayer book, the page would have introduced the Penitential Psalms, supposedly written by King David to express repentance for sin. Set in a contemporary fifteenth-century European town, the  scene would have helped the viewer identify with King David and his desire for forgiveness.

Christ as the Man of Sorrows (about 1520–1525) by Quentin MetsysThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Christ as a Man of Sorrows

Close-up portrayals of the suffering Christ intended for private devotion were especially popular in northern European art around 1500. Quentin Metsys's powerful "Christ as a Man of Sorrows" seeks to inspire the viewer’s profound sympathy for the suffering Christ by portraying in graphic detail the signs of his torment

The long spines of the crown of thorns that pierce his forehead and eyebrow . . .

the blood that flows along the edges of his robe . . .

and the liquid tears that roll down his cheeks.

Virgin and Child with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist (about 1540–1545) by Agnolo BronzinoThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Virgin and Child with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist

The Virgin Mary dominates this composition, wearing garments of richly saturated color. She meets the gaze of the Christ child, their cheeks nearly touching. The figures, with crisp outlines and smooth, luminous skin, give the appearance of carved marble. Agnolo Bronzino was the most refined and technically accomplished Italian painter to embody the ideals of grace and beauty that characterize the High Renaissance style. His religious subjects, mythological scenes, and formal portraits convey the sophisticated intellectual atmosphere of the Medici court in Florence, where he was active for most of his career.

Perpetual Motion (1931) by Asahachi KonoThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Japanese-American Photographs from the Reed Collection

In 2019, the Museum's Department of Photographs acquired an important collection of ninety-three Japanese American photographs—two of which are shown here— assembled by Dennis Reed (American, born in 1946), a Southern California artist, educator, writer, and curator. Most of the photographs were created between 1919 and 1940 by artists affiliated with camera clubs on the West Coast and in Hawaii. 

Sunlight & Shadow (about 1919) by Taizo KatoThe J. Paul Getty Museum

These photographers published and exhibited widely between the two World Wars. If not for the work of Reed, however, they might easily have been forgotten following the loss or destruction of their prints during the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans after the United States entered World War II.

Credits: Story

© 2020 The J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles

A version of this material was published in 2019 as the in-gallery text accompanying the exhibition "Museum Acquisitions 2019: Director's Choice," December 10, 2019–March 1, 2020, at the Getty Center.

To cite these texts, please use: "Director's Choice: Getty Museum Acquisitions 2019," published online in 2020 via Google Arts & Culture, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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