Betty Parsons

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Betty Parsons
[ca. mid 1950s]
Gouache on paper.
13 7/8 x 10 7/8 inches (31.5 x 27.5 cm)
Gift of the Betty Parsons and William P. Rayner Foundation.
Betty Parsons and William P. Rayner Foundation.

Betty Parsons is primarily known as a leading art dealer, one of the first to promote the work of abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. Over nearly forty years in the business, she also championed the work of lesser known women artists such as Anne Ryan, Judith Godwin, and Helène Aylon. Alongside her legendary career as a dealer, Parsons was also an artist in her own right, having been inspired in her adolescence by a visit to the 1913 Armory Show. Parsons spent a decade in Paris in the 1920s and '30s, during which time she studied painting and sculpture at Antoine Bourdelle's Academie de la Grande Chaumière. She went on to study sculpture with Ossip Zadkine and watercolor with the landscape painter Arthur Lindsay. Upon her return to the United States, she studied with Alexander Archipenko in Los Angeles before settling in New York in 1935. Inspired by European modernism, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, and Indigenous art (the first exhibition she held at her eponymous gallery in 1946 was of Northwest Coast Indian art), she developed her own style of abstraction beginning in the late 1940s. This sheet comes from one of the more than 200 notebooks and sketchbooks that Parsons filled throughout her career and typifies her unique approach to painting. She scattered shapes across a blue ground, then treated each one as if it were an independent composition. In addition to using the technique of sgraffito to scratch lines into wet gouache, Parsons also applied thin lines of paint with the end of her brush.