Betty Parsons – A Life In Art

Betty Parsons, “Bird in a Boat” (1971), acrylic on canvas, 60.25 x 48 inches

In 1913, Parsons visited the Armory show, the International Exhibition of Modern Art. She was delighted and inspired by what she saw and described this pivotal moment years later: “It was exciting, full of color and life. I felt like those paintings. I couldn’t explain it, but I decided then that this was the world I wanted… art.”

Undersea #2, 1956, Gouache on paper
20 1/8 x 15 11/16″

An unconventional woman, who was disinherited by her family after she divorced her husband – an affluent New York City socialite. After her divorce, she studied sculpture and painting in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.

In 1933, after losing her alimony support during the Great Depression, Parsons returned to America, where for a short time she taught sculpture in Santa Barbara, CA. In 1936 she moved back to NYC, and had her first gallery showing at the Midtown Galleries. She continued to show her work for the next 20 years.

Journey, 1975, Acrylic on canvas
67 1/2 x 53 5/8″

She began work on the business side of art by working for the Midtown Galleries, selling art on commission. After the war, in 1946, she opened her own gallery – urged by the artists she had been promoting.

She showed seminal artists before anyone else, including Clyfford Still, Theodoros Stamos, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko, Hedda Sterne, Forrest Bess, Judith Godwin, Robert Rauschenberg, Barnett Newman and Helen Frankenthaler. She later moved on to a younger generation of American artists, including Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, Richard Pousette-Dart, Richard Tuttle,and Jack Youngerman.

Her work, especially the sculpture, is playful and colorful. I’m sure we will enjoy discussing it in our upcoming Focus On Abstraction seminar, hosted by

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