The 16 drawings and one 18th-century painting, by artists including Michelangelo, Parmigianino and Watteau, have been bought from an unnamed British collector.
It has been reported the purchase price could be more than $100m. However, the Getty would only confirm that it is the biggest in “terms of financial value”.
Timothy Potts, director of the museum, said: “This acquisition is truly a transformative event in our history.
“It brings into our collection many of the finest drawings from the Renaissance era through to the 19th century that have come to market over the past 30 years, including a number of masterpieces that are among the most famous works on paper by these artists.”
Highlights of the collection, that were purchased as a single group, include Michelangelo’s pen and ink study of a mourning woman, a famous discovery made at Castle Howard in 2000; Parmigianino’s ink drawing of the head of a young man; a rare ‘cartoon’ (full-sized direct transfer drawing for a painting) by Lorenzo di Credi; and Goya’s The Eagle Hunter.
While the majority of works are currently at the Getty in LA, some are still pending export licences from the UK.
Many of these works previously sold at auction. In 2008, the La Surprise by Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) sold at Christie’s in London for a premium-inclusive £12.4m, making it the most expensive work by the artist ever sold at auction. A Study for the Head of Saint Joseph, c.1526-27, by Andrea del Sarto sold at Christie’s London in 2005 for a premium-inclusive £6.5m.
The Getty said it is also considering making other purchases from the collection but is awaiting the outcome of further research.
The museum plans to display the group together in a special installation.
The 16 drawings are:
- Study of a Mourning Woman, c.1500-05, by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, 1475-1564)
- The Head of a Young Boy Crowned with Laurel, c.1500-05, by Lorenzo di Credi (Italian, c. 1457-1537)
- Heads of Two Dominican Friars, c.1511, by Fra Bartolommeo (Italian, 1472-1517)
- Study for the Head of Saint Joseph, c.1526-27, Andrea del Sarto (Italian, 1486-1530)
- Study for the Figure of Christ Carrying the Cross, about 1513-14, by Sebastiano del Piombo (c. 1485-1547)
- The Head of a Young Man, c.1539-40, by Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (Italian, 1503-40)
- Head of a Youth, c.1530, by Domenico Beccafumi (Italian, 1484-1551)
- Study for Saint Peter, c.1533, by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (Italian, c.1480-1540)
- Head of Saint Joseph, c.1586, by Federico Barocci (Italian, c.1535-1612)
- The Head of an African Man Wearing a Turban, c.1609-13, by Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640)
- Panoramic View of Dordrecht and the River Maas, c.1645-52, by Aelbert Cuyp (Dutch, 1620-92)
- Punchinello Riding a Camel at the Head of a Caravan, late 1790s, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727-1804)
- The Eagle Hunter, c.1812-20, by Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828)
- The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host, 1836, by John Martin (British, 1789-1854)
- Two Studies of Dancers, c.1873, by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
- After the Bath (Woman Drying Herself), c.1886, by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)