The J. Paul Getty Museum, the private Los Angeles museum that has become an international destination for the visual arts, yesterday appointed a new director, Michael Brand of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

"It is an opportunity of a lifetime to lead a museum of this standing, and with these resources," said Brand, 47, a native of Australia. "The Getty has the resources, both financial and human, and has a clear mission to strive for absolute excellence."

The Getty, supported by a $5.2 billion endowment, opened in 1997 on a hilltop overlooking Los Angeles. Its collections of ancient and decorative art and European paintings enhanced the city's reputation as a drawing card for art and museums. It was successful from the start, drawing well over a million visitors its first year.

Like many museum-goers, Brand made a pilgrimage to the Getty and was awestruck by the location and collections. "My first visit was as a family group. You were blown away by the architecture and setting," he said. In subsequent visits, he said, he fell in love with the galleries. "You move from ornate displays into rooms that are quieter. And you move out of the extraordinary French bedroom into a sculpture studio."

Next year the Getty is opening an education center and museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu. This was the original museum established in 1953 by Getty, an oil tycoon, and will house 44,000 works of art, of which about 1,200 can be displayed at any one time. Part of his responsibilities, Brand said, will be to maintain a presence in the acquisition markets and strengthen the Getty's core collections, as well as expanding its photography holdings.

The Getty has been without a permanent director since the resignation last fall of Deborah Gribbon, who cited differences on "critical issues" with the museum's leadership. In addition, after a Los Angeles Times article on the financial practices of Barry Munitz, president of the Getty Trust, which oversees the museums and other Getty entities, the California attorney general's office announced this month that it was investigating the Getty's finances. The museum said it was cooperating fully with the inquiry.

Yet Brand is walking into a situation that almost every museum director would envy. Besides the multi-billion-dollar endowment, there is the Getty Trust's annual budget of $300 million. The museum receives about $100 million of that, according to Munitz.

"Brand is a focused strategic thinker with a great passion for the arts and a love of people," he said. "He was also attracted to the fact that there are world-class research and conservation institutes here [in Los Angeles] and each has different directors. He liked the fact that he had equal partners." Specifics of Brand's compensation package were not disclosed by the museum.

Brand, who worked for the Smithsonian Institution in the 1980s, has a degree in Asian studies from Australian National University and a master's degree and doctorate from Harvard. His museum work also includes posts at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Australia and Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane.

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Brand oversaw a capital campaign that has raised $158 million.

Michael Brand, of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, is the new director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.