Gordon and Ann Getty (wearing her JAR collection) at a San Francisco gala, 1998
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 Getty: Interior Style by Diane Dorrans Saeks" (Rizzoli, 2012)
The circa-1740 green- and gold-japanned and carved giltwood cabinet is attributed to Giles Grendey, one of the greatest 18th-century English cabinetmakers. It's crowned with a swan-neck molded pediment centered by a pierced, carved giltwood cartouche and a baroque cabochon. On the right, "Buste de Femme au Chapeau à Plumes," 1887, by Edgar Degas. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
Molto Bevilacqua cut velvets include the green tiger stripe on the sofa of her country house. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
Ann Getty in the Syro-Turkish guest bedroom of her San Francisco residence. The 1894 chair, crafted in fine cut crystal, is by F. & C. Osler, Birmingham, England. It was a design destined for European royalty and maharajas. The gold leaf, paints, and traditional tools are those used by specialist artists restoring antiques at the house. Among Getty’s favorite designers are Elsie de Wolfe, for her lighthearted yet dramatic approach to design; Sister Parish for her never-overthought but always sophisticated and comfortable rooms; and Tony Duquette for his lavish whimsy.
A large-scale, velvet-upholstered sofa anchors the living room, with seating for eight or more. Paintings include a Gustave Moreau, a petite Renoir portrait, and a Camille Pissarro snowy landscape. The empty space on the Chinese gauze–covered wall is usually filled by an 1888 painting of St. Martin-in-the-Fields by William Logsdail, which was on loan for a museum exhibition. The pair of carved parcel giltwood and ebonized stools, upholstered with Bevilacqua silk velvet, is George II , circa 1740. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The music room, adjacent to the dining room, has a Russian theme that resonates with the English country overview of the house. The hand-knotted wool rug is Russian, formerly in the collection of the Scottish Duke of Hamilton, who used it when he took over the Queen's Apartments at the Palace of Holy Roodhouse in Edinburgh in 1684. Patchwork curtains from the estate sale of dancer Rudolf Nureyev's Paris apartment. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The circa-1770 painted and gilded bed was designed by Thomas Chippendale for Edwin Lascelles at Harewood House, which remains the pre-eminent Chippendale country house. The mahogany gueridon is German, circa 1800. Among the artists represented in this bedroom are Balthus, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The design of the opulent mother-of-pearl and wood-inlaid bed is based on a throne at Topkapi palace in Istanbul. The headboard is decorated with 10 very rare Qajar mirror paintings (verre églomisé) depicting delicate flowers, birds, and leaves. The 19th-century sandalwood table, foreground, is Egyptian. A late-17th-century Indian ivory and sheesham wood cabinet, right, balances on a George I cabriole-leg fruitwood stand. Apainting by Eugene Delacroix of a Moorish tribal chief, paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Henri Matisse drawings of his model in Moroccan costumes, Anglo-Indian 18th-century engraved ivory side chairs, and exquisite embroidered textiles are deployed throughout the suite. On the floor of the bedroom is a rare Bessarabian tapestry-woven carpet, circa 1890. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
A pair of circa-1780 Sicilian neoclassical chairs shimmers with gold-framed insets of etched verre églomisé painted to simulate precious gems and minerals. Elegant and mysterious, the somewhat fragile chairs were made in the early 18th century forFrancesco Ferdinand Gravina, the fifth Prince of Palagonia for his Villa Palagonia. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The Josephine guest bathroom is embellished with scrolls and flourishes of Victorian penwork and delicately rendered faux-ivory and ebony framing. The room offers delight to the eye with a pair of brilliant pieta dura tables, along with verre églomisé panels of coral and seaweed. On the bath surround is one of three glass-domed shellwork floral bouquets, mid-19th century, with elaborate flowers worked in seashells and wire supports. The Victorian-era octagonal hinged boxes are framed sailors' valentines, a West Indies tradition. The pair of French cartouche-shaped shellwork sconces is French. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The poolroom, which overlooks a private garden, is a contemplative space for a quick dip and a moment of repose. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The grand three-story music room/ballroom/reception room runs along the entire west wing of Peter Getty's sun-filled residence. The interior was redesigned by Ann Getty in a bravura theatrical style, with newly-painted faux-marble columns and cornices by decorative artist Shirley Robinson. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The Temple of Wings, viewed from the driveway, is open to the Western sun and views across beautifully wooded Berkeley hillsides. Bernard Maybeck is generally credited with the design (though he had a falling out with his client, Florence Treadwell Boynton, and the young architect Randolph Monro supervised the construction in 1914). A pair of sheltering wings surmount a peristyle of 34 Corinthian columns, cast in concrete in place. Originally open to the elements, it was rebuilt after a 1924 wildfire and the enclosed wings were added, along with a miniscule kitchen excavated into the hillside. Paint colors are authentic to this period. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The Gilbert family residence where Ann Getty grew up, has the snow-smudged Sierra foothills as a backdrop and miles of walnut orchards in the soft, green foreground. In the spring, wisteria crowns the gateway leading from the walnut orchards to the side entrance of the house. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
A "bamboo" guest room reflects Ann Getty's enduring love for traditional Indian decorative arts and Anglo-Indian craftsmanship. Front and center is a fine example of the art of Mughal India, a 19th-century painted padouk wood chest that depicts sari-clad women and peacocks in palace gardens. Walls are covered with Rosemount cotton by Marvic, London. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
Ann Getty worked with San Francisco antiques dealer Terry Gross to plan the elaborate mirrored hallway of Gross's Nob Hill apartment as a subtle homage to the Hall of Mirrors, the dazzling feature of the Château de Versailles. It's also a nod to California interior designer Frances Elkins, another Francophile, who first introduced the chic plaster palmier columns and torchières of 1920s Paris designer Serge Roche to her clients. These hallway moldings were created in white plaster from original Régence models by Féau & Cie. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The Getty dining room decor is animated by eight Badminton chairs from the Ann Getty House collection. Copies of the legendary chinoiserie chairs from Badminton House, these chairs are upholstered in embroidered silk that Getty commissioned from one of her favorite Chinese studios. A promenade of Tiepolo-style murals portraying elaborate Chinese magot figures marries Italian romantic dreams of exoticism with the passion for chinoiserie of Getty and Gross. The colorful murals were painted by artists from Atelier de Ricou, Paris, in homage to the magnificent 1757 wall decor at Palladio’s Villa Valmarana ai Nani, painted by Giandomenico Tiepolo, the son of Gianbattista.(Photography by Lisa Romerein)
Guests gather for drinks in the living room and then enter the dining room, here set for a fall dinner honoring illustrious scientists. The Getty family’s Animalier dinner service was made in 1810 for the King of Holland. Eight Louis XV gilt chairs by Foliot circle the Regency-style dining table. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
Ann selected 18th-century hand-woven silks for her luscious pillows. These treasures are featured in the Christie’s auctions this October. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The living room shimmers with hand-woven silk, jade collections, woodcarving, antique textiles, and the glow of gold. The pair of early-eighteenth-century giltwood armchairs was designed by John Vardy for Spencer House, London. The portrait of Nijinsky in a Ballets Russes Siamese costume was painted circa 1910 by Jacques-Emile Blanche. The costume was designed by Leon Bakst. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
On a round table near the bay-facing windows in the living room is a “grand tour” of collections, including one of a pair of late-18th-century Chinese celadon porcelain vases later mounted with a gadrooned ormolu rim, infant tritons, and laurel swags. The pair (the second is on the Gettys’ winged cherub-ornamented table) was formerly in the collection of noted Ivorian leader Félix Houphouët-Boigny. The bowl and two Lucknow carved fish are rock crystal. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
The George III gilt-metal mounted Chinese lacquer cabinet, circa 1770, is attributed to Thomas Chippendale. The Chinese “plant” in a colorful jardinière on the stair is crafted in cloisonné and gilt bronze. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
In the paneled dressing room, the cut-glass crystal throne chair by F. &. C. Osler, with a crested back surmounted by three faceted bright-cut finials, was crafted in Birmingham, England, in 1894. The circa-1800 neoclassical green glass and mirror-inset dressing table, right, from the John Hobbs collection, was from the Villa Manin di Passariano de Codroipo, Udine. (Photography by Lisa Romerein)
A Belgian Porcelain Zoological Part Dinner Service
A George II Oil-Gilt Side Table
A Pair of George II Mahogany And Parcel-Gilt Armchairs
A Pair of Louis XVI Ormolu-Mounted Chinese Celadon Porcelain Vases
Bellotto, Bernardo, Venice, the Grand Canal with the Rialto Bridge seen from the South
Canaletto, Antonio Canal, Venice, entrance to the Grand Canal looking East with Santa Maria della Salute at right
Edgar Degas' "Attente d'un client"
Mary Cassatt's "Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right"
Paul Cezanne's "Le vase bleu sombre"
A very rare pair of Chinese painted enamel garden seats Qing Dynasty 18th Century
Edouard Vuillard's "Portrait de Madame Delierre, dit Symphonie en rouge"
Henri Matisse's "Bouquet, vase chinois"
Jacques-Émile Blanche's "Vaslav Nijinsky in 'Danse Siamoise'"
An enameled gold wine cup India Jaipur 19th-20th century
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.
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 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.
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.