Art, Art & Archives, Education, Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

Hidden Gems of the Collection: Paintings That Keep Us Guessing

We continue our look at intriguing but lesser-known works from the Getty’s collection with two more off-the-beaten-path tips from Museum educators. In a previous post we looked at three relief sculptures; now we turn to two lovingly detailed paintings that invite our imaginations to complete the story.

Head of a Woman

Michael Sweerts

About 1654, Oil on canvas

Getty Center, East Pavilion, Gallery E202

350 years later – a portrait so real you can hear the worn-out fabric on the jacket ripping from the tight pull of the clasps. I look at this woman’s mouth and it seems to smile involuntarily. What are these eyes looking at, and what have they seen to make such deeply etched wrinkles in the skin of her pale face?

Zhenya Gershman, Education Project Specialist

Head of a Woman / Michael Sweerts

Head of a Woman / Michael Sweerts - detail of woman's face

Still Life: Tea Set

Jean-Étienne Liotard

About 1781–83, Oil on canvas

Getty Center, South Pavilion, Gallery S201

A merry disarray of toast and porcelain greets the eye in this small but highly entertaining painting by Liotard. I always wonder about the company that gathered here for tea and the sorts of conversations that were had. Can you tell by looking at the clever arrangement on the tray?

Anna Sapenuk, Gallery Teacher

Still Life: Tea Set / Jean-Étienne Liotard

Still Life: Tea Set / Jean-Étienne Liotard - detail of tea cups

What do you think? Who is this woman and who drank that tea? Tell us in the comments below!

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  1. Zoe
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    The painting of the woman is so absolutely beautiful! I can’t take my eyes off her gracious face!

  2. mobri
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Head of a Woman is one of my favorite Getty paintings. Her eyes are mesmerizing with a just bit of teariness above the lower lid.

  3. Riya aggarwal
    Posted August 3, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Very nice paintings…Awesome

  4. Dr. Iris Nestler
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    From which manufactory is the tea-set? Meissen or Sèvres or anything else? I don’t think, that it is chinese becauce since the beginning of the 18th century european manufacturies copied chinese porcelaine!

  5. Anna Sapenuk
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Dr. Nestler,
    According to Louise Lippincott, this is an unusual case where Liotard is creating a painting of “export porcelain decorated in the Mandarin or Image pattern”.
    Thanks for your interest!

  6. Deeply etched?
    Posted January 16, 2011 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    You must be young. “Deeply etched”? Only if you have skin of a twenty-year-old does this wonderful woman appear to have etched wrinkles. They are joyous–and not very deep–wrinkles.

  7. Elizabeth
    Posted October 25, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I love, LOVE the tea set still life. It looks like a bunch of obnoxious and merry youth in wigs and corsets spent some time laughing and flinging crumpets at eachother from across the table before realizing that they didn’t have time for such nonsense and then tumbled over eachother on their way outdoors to hit eachother with croquet mallets or shoot arrows at portraits of stern fathers. This piece is definitely one of my new favorites!!

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      Clocking in at a giant 400 square feet, this tapestry, Triumph of Bacchus, teems with tiny details and hidden narratives.

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