Entertainment & Arts

Getty’s top paintings curator Scott Schaefer is retiring next month

Scott Schaefer
Scott Schaefer, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum since 1999, will retire in January.
(J. Paul Getty Museum )

Scott Schaefer, who has played a key role in building the collections of Los Angeles’ two biggest art museums over the last 33 years, will retire next month from his job as the Getty Museum’s senior curator of paintings.

Since joining the Getty in 1999, Schaefer has overseen the acquisition of 70 paintings and pastels and five sculptures, including “Rembrandt Laughing,” a recently purchased self-portrait of the artist as a young man; Edouard Manet’s “Portrait of Madame Brunet,” J.M.W. Turner’s “Modern Rome -- Campo Vaccino,” Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian painting “Arii Matamoe” and Jean-Antoine Watteau’s “The Italian Comedians.”

As curator of European paintings and sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 1980 to 1987, Schaefer helped engineer the acquisition of 64 works, among them a “Madonna and Child” by Jacopo Bellini, “Apollo and Phaethon” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Anthony van Dyck’s “Andromeda Chained to the Rock.”

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In the Getty’s written announcement Thursday of Schaefer’s Jan. 21 retirement, museum director Timothy Potts said that “through his acquisitions, Scott has made an impact on every one of the museum’s paintings galleries and, in particular, transformed our 18th century French collection. We will miss his discerning eye, keen intelligence and unswerving commitment.”

Schaefer, 65, said in the announcement that he is “extremely proud to have played a role in the formation of the Getty’s collections,” and expressed gratitude that “my horizons have been immeasurably broadened and my education significantly deepened by my many colleagues.”

His exit from LACMA was considerably less cordial -- Schaefer said at the time that he was resigning because of “differences” over “what a museum is about.”

LACMA’s then-director, Earl A. (Rusty) Powell, who now heads the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., had hired Schaefer away from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Powell said at the time that “the decision was his, not mine. He has been a very aggressive and acquisitive curator, and his contributions have greatly enhanced the museum’s collections.”


LACMA was the first museum Schaefer ever visited as a teenager while growing up in Tucson.

Between his two L.A. museum posts, Schaefer was a vice president at Sotheby’s auction house, focusing on Old Master paintings and drawings.

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The Getty said Schaefer’s work as an exhibitions planner will continue to be felt after his retirement in “The Scandalous Art of James Ensor,” opening June 10, and a display of Turner’s late paintings being organized by the Getty and the Tate Britain. 

Among the most popular exhibitions he oversaw at the Getty were “Rembrandt’s Late Religious Portraits” in 2005, special installations of Manet’s “Bar at the Folies Bergere” in 2007 and this year’s showing of Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”

When he began at LACMA, a Times writer described Schaefer as “a tall man with quick answers and a smile that consumes his face.” The young curator, then 32, outlined his philosophy in the interview: “The permanent collection is more important than anything else. In the end it survives all blockbuster exhibitions and all curators.”


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