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$1M for a lamp? Items at the Getty Estate auction went for even more

A Wisteria Tiffany lamp, left, and "A Coign of Vantage" by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, right | Courtesy Christie's

Kaleidoscopic Tiffany lamps and decadent paintings of languorous figures took center stage at an auction of art from the Getty family’s Berkeley estate Wednesday. Gordon Getty, the heir to an oil fortune and a classical music composer, amassed fine art along with his wife, Ann, in their East Bay mansion known as the Temple of Wings, creating a haven of world-class treasures spread out across the 1914 property, modeled to look like a Roman villa within a secret garden. 

Christie’s in New York City auctioned off more than 100 pieces of fine art and furnishings from the art lovers’ estate, raising nearly $20 million for Bay Area organizations, such as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (where Gordon Getty was once a student), the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera. 

The biggest ticket item was an artwork that doubled as an advertisement for the auction—a painting by the Dutch artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema, depicting three sumptuous female figures looking out onto a dazzling sea. The piece ultimately sold for over $7 million, more than double the estimated price.   

Smaller items also pulled in big numbers: a circa 1902 Tiffany pen tray sold for over $11,000, a wisteria-bedecked Tiffany table lamp—which mirrors the real-life wisteria draping the Temple of Wings—sold for nearly $1 million. And a rug by William Morris, who is widely appreciated as the “father” of the arts and crafts movement, fetched $126,000.  

Gordon Getty and his wife Ann Getty in 1989 | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

If you are what you collect, the taste of the Gettys reveals a predilection for the turn-of-the-century aesthetic movement, which valued beauty over practicality. Many of the auction items ooze decadence and luxury—with refined taste. The appeal of “art for art’s sake” would have been second nature for the Gettys. The longtime philanthropists funded the Getty museum in Los Angeles, were longtime donors to the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, and fashioned their homes as Classical retreats. 

Wednesday’s auction follows 10 sold-out auctions last October of riches from the couple’s Pacific Heights home in San Francisco, raising more than $150 million for the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts. Gordon Getty is 89, and Ann Getty died in September 2020. 

Two online auctions on Thursday will supplement Wednesday’s live auction.  

One of the only items not to meet the estimated sale price was a custom dollhouse with fully operable windows and doors—which is an exact replica of the Temple of Wings property. 

Julie Zigoris can be reached at