Getty Collection Worth $180 Million Auctioned To Benefit Bay Area Arts And Science Organizations

Ann Getty and Gordon Getty watch as photographer Tara Lutz Stevens (left) snaps a photo of their granddaughter and her friends at Gordon Getty’s 80th birthday party at Getty’s Pacific Heights home in San Francisco, December 14, 2013. Photo: Laura Morton / Specially for The Chronicle

For almost 50 years, Ann and Gordon Getty’s The Pacific Heights mansion is considered one of the most celebrated interiors in Northern California, due to its stunning historic design and exquisite art and antiques.

Now 1,500 lots representing the treasures of their collection will be up for sale in a series of auctions beginning in October, with proceeds benefiting the newly founded Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts, Christie’s announced Tuesday, May 3. as $180 million could be realized, to be distributed to arts and science organizations in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, University of San Francisco, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, Berkeley Geochronology Center, and the Leakey Foundation .

Among the lots in the first sale are works of art by Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt and Jacques-Emile Blanche, as well as furnishings by renowned 18th-century craftsmen William and John Linnell.

“We have a long history of partnering with families and selling almost every major collection that has come out of San Francisco,” Ellanor Notides, president of Christie’s West Coast, which founded the San Francisco office in 1982, told The Chronicle. “But this is a personal record for me.”

The public areas of the house on the first floor, designed by the late Ann Getty, are known for their mix of prestigious 18th- and 19th-century paintings and sculpture, European and Asian antiques, and the use of rich textiles that were a feature from Ann Getty & Associates interior design firm. Over the decades, the house has hosted politicians, movie stars, and royalty, as well as design books and magazine spreads. Famous as a setting for elaborate celebrations, both for nonprofits and for high society gatherings, Chronicle columnist Herb Caen referred to the house as “Embassy of San Francisco.”

Gordon Getty, 88, a classical music composer, investor and philanthropist, is the fourth child of J. Paul Getty, founder of Getty Oil Co. The elder Getty was a prolific art collector himself, eventually founding the J. Paul. Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

“Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right” by Mary Cassatt, a lot in the Christie’s Ann and Gordon Getty Collection auction in October. Photo: Christie’s

After his father’s death in 1976, Gordon Getty sold the company to Texaco in 1984 for $10.1 billion. In 2020, Forbes Magazine estimated Getty’s fortune at $2.1 billion and ranked him among the 400 richest Americans. Ann Getty, née Gilbert, died of a heart attack in September 2020 at the age of 79. The two married on Christmas Day 1964 and had four sons (Gordon also has three daughters with Cynthia Beck).

In 1987, the couple founded the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, which has also given significant funding to arts and education in the Bay Area. The Gettys’ newly established philanthropic foundation plans to pay out all of the funds raised from the auction sales within the next three to five years. Bob Leberman, manager of the Getty family office, said talks are also underway about art and object gifts to California and Bay Area museums.

Ann and Gordon Getty moved into the Willis Polk-designed mansion in Pacific Heights in 1973, which would become the flagship of their collection for the next five decades. In addition to allowing the use of the house for charity special events, the couple was known for hosting a combined holiday and birthday party for Gordon each December, which often extended to a closed-off street with a marquee. .

In November 2021, the house also hosted a wedding reception for their granddaughter, Ivy Getty (daughter of John Gilbert Getty), after her wedding to photographer Tobias Engel at San Francisco City Hall.

Jonathan Rendell, deputy chairman and senior adviser to Christie’s Americas, said the Getty house “perhaps reflects a large London mansion from around 1905. It’s the easygoing (art) groups, it’s the use of color, it’s the use of of textiles from that time. … It is the way in which the colors in the paintings and the colors in the textiles are all very subtly matched, so that the whole becomes a work of art.”

Gordon Getty told The Chronicle that the auction is “truly a tribute to Ann’s unparalleled taste and style and the family home she created for us in San Francisco.”

“It was our shared vision that we would sell this collection and donate the proceeds to the California arts and cultural institutions that she and I have both long supported,” he added.

“Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase” by Henri Matisse, 1902, part of the Ann and Gordon Getty Collection auction by Christie’s in October. Photo: Christie’s

One of the lots for the first sale is Matisse’s 1902 painting “Chrysanthèmes dans un vase de Chine”, which hung in a staircase. Rendell calls the work ‘definitely signature for Mrs. Getty’ because of the use of multicultural elements such as a Chinese vase and Japanese chrysanthemums in the still life.

Cassatt’s 1878-79 pastel “Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right,” showing a woman holding a fan of flowers to her chest, hung in Ann Getty’s bedroom.

“It’s everything you want in a Cassatt,” Rendell said. “It’s Cassatt at the right time. It is Cassatt in relation to (Paul) Gauguin and other friends within the Impressionist circle. It is a female artist collected by a female collector; there are many touchpoints that make it an important object.”

A pair of George II black-japaned and package-gilt armchairs originally made in the mid-18th century for the “Chinese” bedroom at Badminton House in Gloucestershire, England, by cabinetmakers John and William Linnell are among the furniture lots in the first sale. Rendell called the chairs “museum-worthy”; the bed and two more chairs from the Badminton room are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

A pair of George II black-japaned and parcel-gilt armchairs by William and John Linnell, circa 1752-55, are in lots in the Ann and Gordon Getty Collection auction by Christie’s. Photo: Christie’s

“It’s one of the most important furniture groups that the museum owns,” Rendell says.

Further details, including October sales dates and additional lots, are yet to be announced. From May 21 to 26, a worldwide tour of some of the pieces for sale in Hong Kong will begin. Christie’s cannot yet say whether the lots will be viewed in San Francisco.

“It’s unusual to see work by famous names from the 18th and 19th centuries in private homes,” said Jeremy Stone, an art consultant and appraiser in San Francisco as well as the founder of Business Matters In the Visual Arts. “The way they are hung and installed in the Getty house looks natural because the house has such a historic feel to it. It’s the whole environment with the incredibly important historic wallpaper and custom historic silk drapes, it’s all equally exciting.”

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