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J. Paul Getty Diaries, 1938-1946, 1948-1976
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: J. Paul Getty diaries
    Date (inclusive): 1938-1946, 1948-1976
    Number: IA40009
    Creator/Collector: Getty, J. Paul (Jean Paul), 1892-1976
    Physical Description: 4.3 linear feet (5 boxes; 29 volumes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Institutional Records and Archives
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The collection comprises twenty-nine handwritten diaries (1938-1946, 1948-1976) of billionaire J. Paul Getty. The diaries focus on his travels, business dealings, art collecting, and interests, providing insights into his personality, priorities, politics, relationships, tastes, and values. They contain daily accounts of Getty's activities, briefly describing social events, business meetings, museum visits, historical and archaeological sites, art objects, and the various people with whom he interacted. They reveal his business practices and philosophies, his passion for history and art, and his cultivation of friendships with influential people. The diaries also illustrate Getty's relations with people in the art world and contain his personal opinions on particular art objects, demonstrating how he developed the collections of decorative arts, antiquities, paintings, and sculpture that evolved into the J. Paul Getty Museum.
    Request materials: To access physical materials at the Getty, go to the library catalog record  for this collection and click "Request an Item." Click here for general library access policy . See the Administrative Information section of this finding aid for access restrictions specific to the records described below. Please note, some of the records may be stored off site; advanced notice is required for access to these materials.
    Language: Collection material is in English

    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. Around 1906 the Getty family moved to Los Angeles. Jean Paul, called "Paul," attended a private military school before going on to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1911, Paul went to Oxford to study economics and political science, completing his diploma in 1913. Afterwards he embarked on a year-long Grand Tour of Europe, which no doubt sparked his interest in art and antiquities.
    In 1914 Paul joined the family petroleum business and spent a year in the oil fields of Oklahoma. An investment in 160 acres in Oklahoma led to Paul’s announcement two years later that he had earned his first million dollars. He returned to Los Angeles and took a break of more than a year before returning to the oil business. Paul then persuaded his father to shift the focus of the family business 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 Getty 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 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 1946 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 the possibility of his eventual return.
    Getty had been traveling throughout Europe and 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). His other interest was antiquities, fueled by visits to the Vatican Museums that began in 1939. 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. 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 Villa, opened to the public on January 16, 1974.
    After leaving the United States 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 with a mission 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.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    The records described in accession 2010.IA.16 are available for use by qualified researchers.
    The following types of records are permanently closed: records containing personal information, records that compromise security or operations, legal communications, legal work product, and records related to donors. The J. Paul Getty Trust reserves the right to restrict access to any records held by the Institutional Archives.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    [Cite the item and series (as appropriate)], Diaries, J. Paul Getty. Institutional Archives, Research Library, Getty Research Institute, Finding aid no. IA40009.

    Acquisition Information

    Accession 2010.IA.16 was purchased from Scott J. Winslow in April, 2010.

    Processing History

    Accession 2010.IA.16 was processed by Cyndi Shein in 2010.

    Related Archival Materials

    The following materials are offered as possible sources of further information on the people and subjects covered by the records. The listing is not exhaustive.
    Contributing Institution: Getty Institutional Archives
    Art and Real Estate Holding Companies Records, 1939-1982, and undated, J. Paul Getty. Institutional Records and Archives, Getty Research Institute, Finding aid no. IA20011.
    Collected Papers for Biography of J. Paul Getty, 1957-1973, 1984 and undated, Ralph Hewins. Institutional Records and Archives, Getty Research Institute, Finding aid no. IA20012.
    J. Paul Getty Family Papers, circa 1880s-1989 and undated. Institutional Records and Archives, Getty Research Institute, Finding aid no. IA20009.
    J. Paul Getty and the Ashby Sisters Papers, 1926-1992, and undated. Institutional Records and Archives, Getty Research Institute, Finding aid no. IA20013.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection comprises the handwritten diaries (1938-1976) of billionaire J. Paul Getty. Although there are certainly references to family and friends throughout the diaries, the journal entries focus more on Mr. Getty's travels, business dealings, art collecting, and interests. They provide insights into the personality, priorities, politics, relationships, tastes, and values of the man as he built and maintained his empire. The diaries contain daily accounts of Mr. Getty's activities, briefly describing social events, business meetings, museum visits, historical and archaeological sites, art objects, and the various people with whom he interacted. They reveal his business practices and philosophies, his passion for history and art, and his cultivation of friendships with famous and influential people. Getty's diary entries also show his attentiveness to and concern regarding world affairs, such as his acute awareness of the threat of war while he was traveling through Germany in the late 1930s, and his respect for world leaders such as Winston Churchill and J. F. Kennedy.
    Of particular interest to the study of art collectors and collecting are diary entries that assess art objects or illustrate Getty's relations with people in the art world. Journal entries include his contact with dealers, auction houses, collectors, curators, art experts, and other advisors, including Duveen. Within the diaries Getty comments on objects he considers acquiring in addition to objects he chooses not to acquire, disclosing how he developed his collections of decorative arts, antiquities, paintings, and sculpture. The diaries document acquisitions that became the foundational objects of the J. Paul Getty Museum, such as the ancient Roman Lansdowne Herakles, as well as acquisitions that Mr. Getty donated to other museums, such as Rembrandt’s Marten Looten. The diaries also disclose Getty's rather competitive interest in what his contemporaries (individuals and institutions) were collecting at the time.


    The diaries are arranged in chronological order.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Getty, J. Paul (Jean Paul), 1892-1976

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    J. Paul Getty Museum

    Subjects - Topics

    Art--Collectors and collecting

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Diaries--United States--20th century


    Information in the biographical note on J. Paul Getty was adapted from:
    • Walsh, John and Deborah Gribbon. The J. Paul Getty Museum and its collections: a museum for the new century. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997.