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TXDW DALLAS — The Design Legacy of Ann Getty and the Christie’s Auction of the Year

Being Getty

BY Diane Dorrans Sacks // 09.18.22

Next month at Rockefeller Center in New York, Christie’s will auction 1,500 dazzling lots from Ann and Gordon Getty’s residences in San Francisco. It has been called the sale of the decade. PaperCity pays homage to the glorious golden years of the late Ann Getty — her legendary style, her parties, her taste, and the magnificent and pedigreed art, antiques, and objects she collected. This auction will benefit the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts. In her global philanthropy, Ann Getty lives on.

It’s a clear memory. Spring 2011, and a crew has flown in, and I’m directing a new portrait of Ann Getty for my Rizzoli monograph Ann Getty Interior Style. Ann, dressed in a white linen Loro Piana blouse, Levi Strauss jeans, and well-worn Superga tennis shoes, is perched on an ornately carved early George III giltwood chair in the center of her San Francisco living room. She is smiling.

Her interior design firm is flourishing. Her Ann Getty Home collection is in demand. She’s just returned from Venice, where she was checking on a large custom order of cut silk velvet hand-woven by the illustrious Bevilacqua atelier. 

“I’ve been working with Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua for over 30 years,” she says. “They are still making my Soprarizzo cut silk velvet on their original 18th-century looms. They weave only a few millimeters a day, but the beauty is so worth it.” She gestures to the dramatic black and rose Bevilacqua cut-velvet upholstery, graphic and sumptuous, on the seat of a pair of 18th-century baroque stools. Luscious, indeed.

Just over her left shoulder is a haunting symbolist painting by Gustave Moreau, its clouds of crimson paint in delicious juxtaposition with the lustrous crushed silk velvet sofa below. Thanks to Ann’s exacting style, these large-scale rooms are transformed into moments of intimacy. Clusters of porcelains and jades and carved crystal boxes on marble tabletops invite close-up immersion in the exquisite beauty. Ann knows the provenance and story of everything in the house.

“It has been a great adventure putting this house together, and for me it will never be finished,” she said. “We are always editing, adding, rethinking. It has given great enjoyment to Gordon and me and our family over the years.”

Shimmering late afternoon light reflects off the bay and illuminates every detail of the ornate pair of circa-1740 gilded George II tables festooned with carved scallop shells, floral garlands, and scrolls of baroque splendor. Later, as Ann walks through the opulent dining room to get back to work, she passes walls paneled in charming and eccentric Chinese court scenes, circa 1720, crafted for a dining room in a Dresden palace of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony. Verre églomisé wall panels are exceptional, created by an artist who worked on site for months at a time.

Introducing Pêche

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The Getty collection — the family’s treasures of antiques, and paintings by Degas, Cézanne, Matisse, Canaletto, Pissarro, Cassatt, and Gauguin — was amassed over more than four decades.

“I have been impressed,” says Martin Chapman, curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, “with the range and quality of Ann and Gordon’s collections of art and antiques for many years. Museums around the world would kill for it.”

The Gettys’ Pacific Heights house was built in 1906 to a classic design by architect Willis Polk, and it gracefully offers a grand foyer and processional entry hall, an interior courtyard, and gracious, hospitable rooms where the Gettys entertained. 

San Francisco social doyenne Denise Hale, one of Gordon and Ann’s closest friends, vividly recalls this golden age when Ann entertained nonstop and Gordon presented new operas — Pavarotti one night, Domingo another. In the ’80s and ’90s, black tie and ball gowns continued to be de rigueur at the illustrious San Francisco Opera House. Ann Getty and Denise Hale attracted the crème de la crème, Ann with her California cool and Hale with her European upbringing, couture wardrobe, and impeccable connections. Francis Bullimore, the Gettys’ illustrious English butler (inherited from J. Paul Getty, Gordon’s father), greeted guests in his impeccable Saville Row morning suit, running the house with an iron hand. Etiquette was adhered to like that in the grand houses of England or France.

“When someone of note came to town — a count or duchess, conductor Zubin Mehta, a famous author — their friends would call and ask Ann and me to take care of them, meaning nonstop entertaining,” says Hale, who recalls a summer lunch in the Gettys’ dining room in honor of Renzo Mongiardino. “Ann seated me next to Renzo, because his English was a bit hesitant and I speak Italian. Renzo loved the Gettys’ collections, particularly the Canalettos and Bellottos. He said the Gettys had more Canalettos in their house than all the museums of Venice. And he loved the mirrored verre églomisé walls in the dining room.”

Hale and Ann again teamed up for a formal luncheon when imperious Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon came to town. “Ann called me, last minute, and said that Princess Margaret would very much like to meet some Hollywood stars,” Hale recalls. Thanks to Denise’s earlier marriage to Vincente Minnelli, she had priceless Los Angeles connections, and Rock Hudson and John Gavin, the biggest male stars at the time, arrived on the next plane. Princess Margaret was star-struck, Gordon selected wines from his cellars and wineries, and the family’s French chef created menus showcasing the best California ingredients.

And there was one more delight. The family’s French pastry chef filled vintage glass apothecary jars with handcrafted chocolates, caramels, and exotic French and Italian bonbons. Ann Getty commissioned pretty, handcrafted boxes, which uniformed staff filled with each guest’s favorites.

One year, the normally sedate Italianate atrium was turned into a silvery Mylar-lined disco, with tanned go-go girls and boys and a booming sound system that rattled the Matisses and Vuillards in the adjacent drawing room. The party decor by Stanlee R. Gatti — giant orbs and archways decorated with every pink rose grown in Ecuador, truckloads of orchids from Thailand — was va-va-voom glamorous.

Another memorable Christmas, a wild storm raged though San Francisco, and power was out all over Pacific Heights. Ann and Gordon smiled serenely as drenched guests dashed in from the downpour to celebrate Gordon’s birthday. “We have a backup generator,” said Ann as she greeted Amy Tan, Nancy Pelosi, and Gavin Newsom. Party designer Stanlee Gatti lavished rooms with romantic arches of pink roses, calla lilies, and DellaRobbia garlands of gardenias that filled the rooms with the fragrance.

Ann launched her interiors firm in 1995 and Ann Getty Home collection the following year, offering reproductions of her Anglo-Dutch Queen Anne chairs, gilt Louis XV chairs, water-gilded Georgian side chairs, and a ravishing tortoiseshell bookcase. All were superbly crafted by Rossi Antiques, a master finisher in San Francisco. 

Ann’s personal curiosity and energy and passions made her a lifelong student of art history. She grew up on a peach and walnut farm in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California — driving and fixing tractors made her very practical, she said. After she met and married Gordon (they eloped to Las Vegas), Ann spent decades studying anthropology and paleoanthropology. For more than 40 years, she was at the center of international art and antiques, first as a student, later as a serious buyer. For years, she worked on archaeological digs in Ethiopia and Egypt to study ceramics, carving, antique textiles. Her private plane, the Jetty, came in handy for worldwide research and study trips.

Ann’s first brush with high-level decorating was with Albert Hadley and his partner, Sister Parish, who decorated Ann’s Pacific Heights house when her four sons were young. She briefly commissioned John Stefanidis to decorate guest rooms. The California firm Leavitt & Weaver advised on her complex vision for the living room and decorated the Jetty.

When Ann completed the decoration of the Gettys’ San Francisco residence, then launched her design firm, her knowledge of textiles, design, and antiques came into even sharper focus. She had a panoramic view of design — from arcane aspects of Chinoiserie and late-19th-century Napoleon III-influenced Turkish decor to Hyderabad embroidery, Russian and Indian textiles, Venetian baroque styles, and princely Sicilian verre églomisé furniture.

When her design firm received inter-national attention in the late ’90s, it did not go unnoticed in the design world. “Why is she setting herself up as a professional decorator? She doesn’t need the money,” sniped one huffy California decorator. It was a rare retort, as everyone was aware of her cultural philanthropy and support of music education in schools and of animal welfare groups in San Francisco and beyond.

Ann Getty
The elaborately painted Italian Lacca Povera and parcel-gilt bureau cabinet, circa 1740, was made for a Medici pope, whose crest is displayed. The top is fitted with figures depicting the four seasons. The Palais Royal ormolu and mother-of-pearl inkwell is French, circa 1820. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)

Ann started collecting antiques seriously more than 40 years ago, somewhat under the guidance of Gordon’s father, J. Paul Getty, who steered the couple toward classical 18th-century English antiques and art — the pieces that were being sold off from the greatest of the great English country-house collections of the time. Prices were reasonable, J. Paul said, as all the museums were at that time mad for 18th-century French, and those prices were astronomical.

Every piece has a significant provenance. The chandelier in the dining room once belonged to Daisy Fellowes (Mrs. Reginald, one of the many Singer heiresses). There were porcelains from the Consuelo Vanderbilt collection and sofas from Rudolf Nureyev’s Paris apartment (he was a friend). Ann reupholstered Nureyev’s worn Bevilacqua sofa and used cut-off fragments for the silken patchwork curtains in the music room.

Ann died suddenly the fall of 2020. In November 2021, Gordon presented the music-filled wedding reception of his granddaughter Ivy Getty to Tobias Engel with 450 international guests. The lavish and generous celebration (who could forget the dreamy John Galliano-designed couture wedding dress) was orchestrated by Stanlee Gatti with gorgeous pale pink roses and multiple bands and dance floors. It was the last big bash at the Getty residence, the final hurrah before everything was expertly recorded by Christie’s and sent on its way to New York. The Christie’s sale for The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection will be held over four evening and day auctions in New York from October 20 through 23.

Ann Getty Residence, San Francisco
Ann Getty Residence, San Francisco

Proceeds, expected to be upwards of $300 million, will benefit the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts, dedicated to supporting arts and science organizations. The foundation was established in 2022 to fulfill the Gettys’ joint philanthropic commitment to creativity and learning and their belief that art, in all its forms, is vital to ensuring a community’s prosperity. Proceeds from the Christie’s sale will support specific California-based arts and science organizations with whom the Gettys have had a very longstanding relationship. The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts plans to distribute all of its charitable resources within the next three to five years, seeking to leave a legacy to carry future generations forward. The sale includes antiques and china and decorative arts and custom-crafted objects from other residences of the family, all of them exceptional.

The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection masterworks include American, English, French, and Venetian paintings; English and European furniture; Asian works of art; and items of rare provenance. The sales include important Impressionist pictures by Claude Monet and Edgar Degas and an exquisite group of Old Master paintings and drawings including Bernardo Bellotto (nephew of Canaletto) and Jean-Antoine Watteau. Christie’s will also hold a series of online sales of lifestyle, entertaining, and luxury items from the Getty Collection, including textiles, handbags, and jewelry owned by Ann Getty. (Her JAR jewels were sold in in Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in June.)

It’s all very bittersweet for lifelong friends and members of the far-flung Getty family. They’re left with fond memories of a house of extravagant beauty, of parties where the music never ended, and perhaps of falling asleep post-party at 3 am on Ann Getty’s red velvet sofa, comforted by a silk brocade pillow hand-woven in Lyon in 1784. Happy memories. Golden days, indeed.

The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection will be sold for charity during a four-day and evening sale, October 20 to 23 in New York City. For tour schedule and information on the sale go to Christies.com/Getty.


As part of Texas Design Week Dallas, Christie’s Deputy VP Will Strafford and designer Hutton Wilkinson of Tony Duquette will discuss the extraordinary sale and the life and times of Ann Getty in an illustrated talk Tuesday, September 20, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at Arsin Rug Gallery.

Texas Design Week Dallas is a ticketed event. For full schedule and to purchase tickets got to TexasDesignWeek.com.

Diane Dorrans Saeks, a design editor and lecturer based in San Francisco, is the best-selling author of 25 design books, including the definitive design book on the interiors of Ann Getty, Ann Getty Interior Style (Rizzoli, 2012). She’s also the author of the design and style blog The Style Saloniste and has served as the contributing design editor of PaperCity for almost two decades.

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