Betty Parsons

Flame (1967)
Acrylic on canvas
69.5h x 40.5w in (176.5h x 102.9w cm)
Flame (1967)
Acrylic on canvas
69.5h x 40.5w in (176.5h x 102.9w cm)
Bird in a Boat (1971)
Acrylic on canvas
60.25h x 48w in (153h x 121.9w cm)
Bird in a Boat (1971)
Acrylic on canvas
60.25h x 48w in (153h x 121.9w cm)
Wood-Wings (1973)
Acrylic on wood
11.5h x 16.37w x .75d in (29.2 x 41.5 x 1.9 cm)
Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York
Wood-Wings (1973)
Acrylic on wood
11.5h x 16.37w x .75d in (29.2 x 41.5 x 1.9 cm)
Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York
Sputnik (1961)
Oil on canvas
30h x 22w in (76.2h x 55.9w cm)
Sputnik (1961)
Oil on canvas
30h x 22w in (76.2h x 55.9w cm)
Celeste Beach, Acapulco Mexico (1940)
Graphite and gouache on paper
15.75h x 19.75w in (40h x 50.2w cm)
Celeste Beach, Acapulco Mexico (1940)
Graphite and gouache on paper
15.75h x 19.75w in (40h x 50.2w cm)
African Dawn (1972)
Acrylic on canvas
67.5h x 35.5w in (171.45h x 90.17w cm)
African Dawn (1972)
Acrylic on canvas
67.5h x 35.5w in (171.45h x 90.17w cm)
Maine (1972)
Acrylic on canvas
24h x 16.25w in (61h x 41.3w cm)
Maine (1972)
Acrylic on canvas
24h x 16.25w in (61h x 41.3w cm)
Bright Day (1966) 
Acrylic on canvas
46.12h x 61.5w in (117h x 156.3w cm)
Collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Bright Day (1966)
Acrylic on canvas
46.12h x 61.5w in (117h x 156.3w cm)
Collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Aux en Provence (1927)
Graphite and watercolor on paper 
13.75h x 20w in (34.9h x 50.8w cm)
Aux en Provence (1927)
Graphite and watercolor on paper
13.75h x 20w in (34.9h x 50.8w cm)
Wyoming Magic (1974)
Acrylic on paper
24h x 19w in (61h x 48.3w cm)
Wyoming Magic (1974)
Acrylic on paper
24h x 19w in (61h x 48.3w cm)

Biography

 view entire CV PDF 70 K

Betty Parsons (b.1900, New York City, NY – d.1982, Southold, NY) was an abstract painter and sculptor who is best known as a dealer of mid-century art. Throughout her storied career as a gallerist, she maintained a rigorous artistic practice, painting during weekends in her Long Island studio. Parsons’ eye for innovative talent stemmed from her own training as an artist and guided her commitment to new and emerging artists of her time, impacting the canon of Twentieth-Century art in the United States.

Parsons was drawn to art at an early age when in 1913 she attended the Armory Show in New York City. As she came of age, she became dissatisfied with the traditional models of education and limited occupations for women at the time. Following the dissolution of her marriage to Schuyler Livingston Parsons in 1923, she moved to Paris and studied painting and sculpture with School of Paris figures, including Ossip Zadkine and Alexander Archipenko. Her ten years in Paris centered around the ex-patriate community of lesbian artists and cultural figures, including Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, and Adge Baker, in pursuit of a life in art. Upon her return to the U.S. in 1933, Parsons continued to create, spending time in California and New York. In 1935, she had her first solo exhibition of paintings at Midtown Galleries, New York, and following this show, she was offered a job installing works and selling paintings on commission, sparking her curatorial interest and developing her professional identity as an art dealer. In 1946, Parsons opened her eponymous gallery in New York, and after the closure of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1947, she inherited Guggenheim’s roster of artists, including Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Clyfford Still. While her gallery’s legacy is closely tied to these leading figures, Parsons also championed a diverse program of artists, showcasing work by women, gays and artists of color, reflecting her liberal and inclusive values, and eclectic tastes.

While operating her gallery, Parsons continued to make art. Following her formal training as a sculptor and landscape watercolorist, Parsons made a stylistic departure in 1947 when she began to work abstractly to capture what she called “sheer energy” and “the new spirit.” From the late 1940s onward, her paintings conveyed her passion for spontaneity and creative play through impulsive gestural brushstrokes and organic forms. She utilized thin layers of vibrant paint, often allowing the surface of the canvas to remain visible. Parsons had a long interest in ancient and ethnographic arts, as well as mystical and non-Western spiritual practices, including meditation. Through these interests, she chose to set aside the rigid theoretical framework of contemporary abstraction, allowing instead for expressive improvisation in her paintings.

Throughout her life, Parsons traveled widely in pursuit of new influences, taking frequent trips to Mexico, France, Italy, Africa, and Japan. She meticulously recorded her travels in her journals as watercolors and sketches, and often drew on a sense of place in her work. In the 1960s, Parsons would increase her time in Long Island, having built a painting studio designed by the sculptor Tony Smith, perched above the Long Island Sound. Her weekends would be consumed by observing nature, and her painting became increasingly saturated with color. In addition to painting, in the late 1970s she returned to sculpture, making polychrome assemblages of discarded wood and driftwood she would collect on the beach. Parsons died in 1982, a year after closing her 57th Street gallery, leaving a multi-faceted legacy as a woman, and an artist, of the Twentieth Century.

Betty Parsons’ work has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions at The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, NY (1992); the Montclair Museum of Art, Montclair, NJ (1974); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (1968), and The Miami Museum of Modern Art, Miami, FL (1963). Parsons’ work is represented in prominent public collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; The Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY; the Montclair Museum of Art, Montclair, NJ; and The High Museum, Atlanta, GA; among others.

Articles / Reviews

  • Parsons Artsy  June 23, 2017  PDF 1.2 MB
  • Parsons New York Times  June 22, 2017  PDF 302 K
  • Parsons New Yorker  June 20, 2017  PDF 148 K
  • Parsons ARTnews  March 16, 2017  PDF 218 K
  • Parsons ARTnews  July 9, 2015  PDF 445 K
  • Parsons New York Times  March 19, 2015  PDF 187 K
  • Parsons Art in America  November 1, 2013  PDF 281 K
  • Parsons New York Times  March 12, 2010  PDF 275 K
  • Parsons Artforum  December 2008  PDF 3.8 MB
  • Parsons ARTnews  November 2008  PDF 0.9 MB
  • Parsons New York Times  December 1, 2006  PDF 170 K
  • Parsons New York Times  August 26, 2006  PDF 289 K
  • Parsons New York Times  July 13, 2005  PDF 271 K
  • Parsons New York Times  February 28, 1999  PDF 321 K
  • Parsons New York Times  June 28, 1992  PDF 624 K
  • Parsons New York Times  January 22, 1977  PDF 461 K
  • Parsons New Yorker  June 9, 1975  PDF 3.6 MB
  • Parsons New York Times  March 31, 1974  PDF 352 K