New York, 1900 - 1982

Betty Parsons

Betty Parsons 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.

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...

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Biography

Betty Parsons 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.

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.

Artworks

Early Light, 1965

Related Categories

20th Century Art / Abstract Painting / Abstraction / Acrylic on Canvas / Acrylic Paint / Acrylic Painting / American Art / Art of the 1940s / Art of the 1950s / Art of the 1960s / Art Professionals / Canvas / Color and Form / Contemporary American Art / Gestural Abstraction / Inspiration from Ancient Culture / Meditation / New York / Organic Forms / Painting / Spontaneity / United States / Versatile Talents / Women Artists

Curriculum Vitae

Education

  • 1924

    Académie de La Grand Chaumière, Paris, France

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Alison Jacques Gallery, London, UK

  • 2018

    Betty Parsons: Blue sky very high, Art Omi, Ghent, NY

  • 2017

    Betty Parsons: Invisible Presence, Alexander Gray Associates, New York, NY

Group Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Abstract Expressionism Revisited, Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY

  • Painters of the East End, Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY

  • Count of Three, Alexander Gray Associates, New York, NY

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Curriculum Vitae

The artist CV shows the details after 2000s.
To access the artist’s full CV, please click the download button at the end.

Education

  • 1924

    Académie de La Grand Chaumière, Paris, France

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Alison Jacques Gallery, London, UK

  • 2018

    Betty Parsons: Blue sky very high, Art Omi, Ghent, NY

  • 2017

    Betty Parsons: Invisible Presence, Alexander Gray Associates, New York, NY

  • 2015

    Betty Parsons: A Life in Art, David Findlay Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2010

    Journeys: The Art of Betty Parsons, Spanierman Modern, New York, NY

  • 2008

    Totem Materia: Sculpture and Paintings by Betty Parsons, Spanierman Modern, New York, NY

  • 2007

    Painted Wood Sculpture by Betty Parsons, Spanierman Gallery, LLC, East Hampton, NY

  • 2006

    The Painted Sculpture of Betty Parsons, The Graduate Center, the City University of New York, New York, NY

  • Betty Parsons: A Painting Retrospective, Spanierman Gallery, LLC, East Hampton, NY

  • 2005

    The Painted Sculpture of Betty Parsons, Naples Museum of Art, Naples, FL

Group Exhibitions

  • 2019

    Abstract Expressionism Revisited, Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY

  • Painters of the East End, Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY

  • Count of Three, Alexander Gray Associates, New York, NY

  • She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York, 1918-2018, Gracie Mansion, New York, NY

  • 2018

    Surface Work, Victoria Miro, London, UK

  • 2017

    Andrew Brischler: Lonely Planet, Gavlak Palm Beach Gallery, Palm Beach, FL

  • Innovative Approaches, Honored Traditions: The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Five Years, Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

  • 2015

    You Go Girl! Celebrating Women Artists, The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

  • 2014

    Material World (Permanent Collection Exhibition), Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

  • 2006

    Betty Parsons and the Women, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York, NY

  • 2005

    People, Places and Things, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

  • 2000

    The Nature of Seeing: Works from the Collection, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

Collections

  • Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA

  • Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

  • Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL

  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

  • Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

  • Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland

  • Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ

  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

  • National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC

Bibliography

  • “A incrível história da galerista que descobriu Rothko e Reinhardt.” Dasartes, June 29, 2017.

  • Alcauskas, Katherine D. “Betty Parsons.” In Innovative Approaches, Honored Traditions. New York: Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, 2017, pp. 232—233.

  • Alloway, Lawrence. Betty Parsons: Paintings. Bennington: Bennington College, 1966. Reprinted in Betty Parsons—Paintings. Boston: Gallery Seven, 1967.

  • “Art.” The Nation, May 4, 1975.

  • Ayers, Robert. “Betty Parsons: Spanierman Modern.” ARTnews, November 2008.

  • Aylon, Helène. “Interview with Betty Parsons.” WomanArt, Fall 1977.

  • “Betty Parsons.” ARTnews, April 1955.

  • “Betty Parsons: Diary of an Art Dealer,” Vogue 142, October, 1963.

  • “Betty Parsons: Invisible Presence.” The New Yorker, June 2017.

  • Blume, Mary. “Betty Parsons: The Power of Enchantment.” International Herald Tribune, July 4, 1980.