How the J. Paul Getty Museum Works

Image Gallery: Famous Landmarks The Getty Museum began as a small display in oilman J. Paul Getty's Malibu home, and today it has grown into one of the most extensive art collections in the world. See more pictures of famous landmarks.
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Outside, you face a jaw-dropping mountaintop view of the one of the world's great urban landscapes. Inside, you can gaze on Van Gogh's famous oil painting, "Irises," among numerous other art pieces and ancient artifacts.

Welcome to the J. Paul Getty Museum, a major cultural institution of Los Angeles and one of the most accessible and informative art museums in the world. Featuring unique architecture, intricate and ever-changing gardens, and a huge collection of paintings, manuscripts and photographs, the Getty has plenty to offer its visitors.

Its roots can be traced back to when oilman J. Paul Getty took a big risk by investing in oil fields in the Arabian Peninsula after World War II, but his bet paid off in a big way. By 1957, he was named the richest man in America [source: Encyclopedia of World Biography].

Getty was a longtime lover of art and wanted to share his passion with the world. In 1954, he opened a museum connected to his home in Malibu [source:]. Twenty years later, he had the collection transferred to a replica of a Roman Villa that he'd had built nearby. The Villa now houses the Getty Museum's extensive collection of antiquities. Although Getty spent the last decades of his life in England, and died without getting to see the completed Villa museum, his vision went even further.

When he died in 1976, the billionaire industrialist left a large portion of his fortune to fund the museum and several art institutions connected with it. The bequest was worth $1.2 billion when, after some legal wrangles, it finally got to the museum in 1982 [source:]. It grew to a peak of $6.4 billion in 2007, making the Getty one of the richest art museums in the world [source: Getty: Endowment Values]. The Getty continues to be operated by the J. Paul Getty Trust, which has spent hundreds of millions to enlarge the collection.

The trustees used the enormous bequest to construct the Getty Center complex in Los Angeles, ten miles from the original museum. Designed by modernist architect Richard Meier, the campus took more than 12 years to build and cost more than a billion dollars [source: PBS]. It opened in 1997. That same year, the Villa location in Malibu closed for a nine-year renovation. Together, the two parts of the Getty Museum offer visitors a wide-ranging and absorbing art experience.

Read on to find out why this wealthy art museum can also be a bargain for visitors.