Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Getty (J. Paul) family collected papers, circa 1880s-1989, undated
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (184.46 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials Note
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: J. Paul Getty family collected papers
    Date (inclusive): 1880s-1989, undated (bulk 1911-1977)
    Number: IA20009
    Creator/Collector: Getty, J. Paul (Jean Paul), 1892-1976
    Physical Description: 21 Linear Feet (30 boxes, 1 flat file)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Institutional Records and Archives
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The collection comprises collected materials related to art collector and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and his parents, George F. Getty I and Sarah C. Getty. The collected papers on J. Paul Getty include some of his personal and business correspondence and other documents, dating from 1909 to 1976, providing insight into his art collecting activities, his business concerns, and his personal and family relationships. The materials also contain documents postdating Mr. Getty's death (1977, 1980-1989) that concern the management of his estate and eulogize his life and accomplishments. The George F. Getty I and Sarah C. Getty papers, dating from 1890 to 1939, primarily comprise family and oil business correspondence and offer researchers a glimpse into the Getty household. The collection includes correspondence, art and furniture inventories, financial records, legal documents, publications, ephemera, and photographs, dating from around the 1880s to 1989.
    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 (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.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    The records described in accessions 1986.IA.22; 1986.IA.40; 1987.IA.05; 1987.IA.11; 1987.IA.16; 1992.IA.03; 1997.IA.08; 1998.IA.07; 2002.IA.02; 2004.IA.17; 2006.IA.05; 2007.IA.32; 2009.IA.36; 2012.IA.37; 2014.IA.02; 2018.IA.58; and 2019.IA.56 are available for use by qualified researchers.
    Please note: materials that have been marked restricted or confidential must be removed from boxes prior to access.
    With the exception of materials that have been marked restricted or confidential, the records described in accessions 1986.IA.48 and 2010.IA.17 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.

    Restrictions on Use

    Contact Rights and Reproductions   at the Getty Research Institute for copyright information and permission to publish.

    Preferred citation

    J. Paul Getty Family Collected Papers, circa 1880s-1989, undated (bulk 1911-1977). Institutional Records and Archives. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, IA20009.

    Acquisition Information

    This collection was assembled from a number of sources and is comprised of the following accessions:
    • 1986.IA.22 transferred by the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities
    • 1986.IA.40 transferred by the J. Paul Getty Trust
    • 1986.IA.48 transferred by the J. Paul Getty Museum (the material was originally part of accession no. 1986.IA.01 and was assigned no. 1986.IA.48 in January 2006 for purposes of providing better administrative control)
    • 1987.IA.05 (unidentified source)
    • 1987.IA.11 transferred by the J. Paul Getty Museum
    • 1987.IA.16 transferred by the J. Paul Getty Estate
    • 1992.IA.03 donated by Zeki Yonet
    • 1997.IA.08 donated by unidentified dealer
    • 1998.IA.07 donated by or acquired from Spencer A. Samuels & Co.
    • 2002.IA.02 (unidentified source)
    • 2004.IA.17 donated to the Institutional Archives by the Nethercutt Collection
    • 2006.IA.05 transferred by the J. Paul Getty Trust
    • 2007.IA.32 donated by Lynda Jenner
    • 2009.IA.36 discovered by Getty Institutional Archives staff during review of unaccessioned legacy records
    • 2010.IA.17 acquired from Scott J. Winslow Associates, Inc.
    • 2011.IA.44 transferred by the J. Paul Getty Trust
    • 2012.IA.37 transferred by the Getty Research Institute
    • 2014.IA.02 donated by Scott J. Winslow
    • 2018.IA.58 donated by John M. McDivitt
    • 2019.IA.56 purchased from Bonhams

    Processing History

    Phil Curtis created a box list in the summer of 2003, began a preliminary rehousing of the collection, and created and began encoding a preliminary finding aid in November 2004. Sue Luftschein completed the rehousing and restructured and completed this finding aid in August 2005. In 2009, Cyndi Shein processed material accessioned during the Legacy Records Appraisal Project and revised the finding aid accordingly. The acquisition of some of J. Paul Getty's personal papers and George F. and Sarah C. Getty's papers in 2010 introduced new content to the collection; Cyndi Shein processed and added the following accessions: 1997.IA.08; 1998.IA.07; 2006.IA.05; 2007.IA.32; and 2010.IA.17. She then restructured the intellectual arrangement of the materials and rewrote the finding aid to reflect the new nature of the collection. Cyndi Shein added accessions 2011.IA.44, 2012.IA.37, and 2014.IA.02. Sara Seltzer added accession 2018.IA.58. Nancy Enneking added accession 2019.IA.56
    Please note that accessions 1987.IA.11, 1992.IA.03, and 1998.IA.07 are housed in shared box 1986.IA.22-02. Accession 2002.IA.02 is housed with the other oversized photographs in box 1986.IA.48-12. Accessions 2004.IA.17, 2009.IA.36, and 2011.IA.44 are housed in shared box 1987.IA.16-01. Accessions 2014.IA.02 and 2018.IA.58 are housed in a shared box.

    Related Archival Materials Note

    The following archival materials are offered as possible sources of further information on the people, programs, and subjects covered by the records. The listing is not exhaustive.
    Contributing Institution: Getty Institutional Archives
    J. Paul Getty and the Ashby Sisters Papers, 1926-1992, undated. The Getty Research Institute (IA20013).
    J. Paul Getty Diaries, 1938-1946, 1948-1976. The Getty Research Institute (IA40009).
    Ralph Hewins Collected Papers for Biography of J. Paul Getty, 1957-1973, 1984 and undated. The Getty Research Institute (IA20012).

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection comprises materials gathered from a variety of sources that relate to art collector and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and his parents, George F. Getty I and Sarah C. Getty. The collection includes correspondence, art and furniture inventories, financial records, legal documents, publications, ephemera, and photographs, dating from approximately 1880 to 1989 and undated.
    The collected papers on J. Paul Getty include some of his personal and business correspondence and other documents, providing insight into his art collecting activities, his business ventures, and his personal and family relationships. The financial records primarily describe the affairs of Getty family businesses as well as Getty's estate at the time of his death. The legal documents describe legal and financial relationships within the Getty family through correspondence, wills, prenuptial agreements, divorce decrees, financial settlements, child and spousal support agreements, and other supporting documents. Materials related to Mr. Getty's publications contain correspondence with co-authors and publishers, typescripts and drafts of his books, and copies of his published books and articles. The collected papers also contain documents postdating Mr. Getty's death (1977, 1980-1989) that concern the management of his estate and eulogize his life and accomplishments.
    The collected George F. Getty I and Sarah C. Getty papers include letters, telegrams, hand-drawn maps, cancelled stock certificates, contracts, promissory notes, travel documents, receipts, and various forms of ephemera. The family correspondence includes letters written by J. Paul Getty to his parents that provide insight into the personal and early business relationships between George, Sarah, and Paul. While the family correspondence hints at the atmosphere of the Getty household, George's papers shed light on his early oil operations, including scouting potential drilling sites, day-to-day management of drilling activities, and his political efforts to protect his interests/land in the Osage Nation (part of the Indian Territory that became Oklahoma). Sarah's mostly peripheral involvement in the family business is evinced by her correspondence with George and several notarized documents.
    The photographs consist primarily of black-and-white photographs and negatives, dating from approximately the 1880s to the 1970s, of J. Paul Getty, family, friends, properties, and city and landscape views. The photographs also include several images of the J. Paul Getty Museum and galleries during its early years. The images are of various sizes, and are largely undated and unidentified. The majority of these photographs once belonged to J. Paul Getty, while a smaller number of them seem to have belonged to his father, George F. Getty I. The photographs come from several different sources, including Ralph Hewins, Getty's biographer.


    These records are organized into three series:
    Series I. J. Paul Getty papers, 1909-1977, 1982-1984, 1989, undated (bulk 1912-1976);
    Series II. George F. Getty I and Sarah C. Getty papers, 1890, 1904-1921, 1928, 1931-1934, 1939, undated (bulk 1911-1912);
    Series III. Photographs, 1880s-1970s, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Getty, Sarah C. (Sarah Catherine)
    Getty, George F. (George Franklin), 1855-1930
    Getty, J. Paul (Jean Paul), 1892-1976

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Minnehoma Oil and Gas Company
    Ada Oil Corporation
    San Joaquin Oil Company
    Getty Oil Company
    Oklahoma Oil Corporation
    George F. Getty, Incorporated
    J. Paul Getty Museum

    Subjects - Topics

    Oil fields -- Oklahoma -- Osage Reservation
    Art objects -- Collectors and collecting
    Art museums
    Billionaires -- United States -- 20th century
    Entrepreneurship -- 20th century
    Petroleum -- History -- United States -- 20th century

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Ledgers (account books)
    Financial records
    Legal documents
    Clippings (information artifacts)


    Gaston, Teddy Getty, 1913-
    Getty, Sarah C. (Sarah Catherine)
    Bramlett, Norris (Cagle Norris)
    Hewins, Ralph
    Getty, J. Paul (Jean Paul), 1892-1976
    Le Vane, Ethel
    Getty, George F. (George Franklin), 1855-1930


    Information in the biographical note on J. Paul Getty was gleaned from the collection and from the following publications:
    • Getty, J. Paul. As I see it: the autobiography of J. Paul Getty. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall, 1976.
    • Hewins, Ralph. The richest American: J. Paul Getty. New York: Dutton, 1960.