Betty Parsons (b. 1900, New York, NY; d. 1982, Southold, NY) is best known as a visionary New York gallerist of mid-century art, whose eye for great artists helped to shape and define twentieth-century art in the US. Alongside her gallery career, Parsons was an abstract painter and sculptor who maintained a rigorous artistic practice, painting during weekends in her Long Island studio. ‘When I’m not at the gallery, my own art is my relaxation,’ she once said. ‘That’s my greatest joy.’

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Parsons developed a style that was playful, bold and expressive, and always grounded by a flair for colour. The works made during her six-decade career drew on diverse sources, from natural phenomena and the cosmos, to Native American culture and Asian spiritual practices. Her adventurous character resulted in extensive international travel, including trips to Africa, Japan and Mexico, which had a profound impact on her relationship with colour and form. The coastal landscape surrounding Parsons’ Long Island studio was another environment that nourished her pursuit of capturing the fleeting nature of her surroundings and fuelled her impulse to evoke what she described as the ‘sheer energy’ or ‘invisible presence’ of a situation.

Born into a prominent New York family, Parsons resolved to be an artist after visiting the infamous Armory Show in 1913, an exhibition that is often credited with introducing Modern art to the US. Following classes at Parsons School of Design, her training evolved after relocating to Paris in 1922. Upon her arrival in France, Parsons quickly found herself amongst prominent artistic and literary circles, which included Alexander Calder, May Ray and Gertrude Stein, and studied alongside Alberto Giacometti under the tutelage of Antoine Bourdelle. Upon her return to America, she studied with Alexander Archipenko in Los Angeles before moving back to New York in 1935, where she was taught by Arshile Gorky.

Parsons began to receive solo exhibitions at the beginning of the 1930s. To supplement her income, she took jobs assisting art dealers in Manhattan before opening the Betty Parsons Gallery in September 1946. At a time when there was little interest in new American painting, Parsons’ roster included Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Parsons is also credited with launching the careers of several other artists over the course of the gallery’s 36-year history, including Helen Frankenthaler, Hedda Sterne, Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Tuttle. But despite the success of her gallery, Parsons possessed an unwavering commitment to her own artistic practice: ‘I would give up my gallery in a second if the world would accept me as an artist.’

In the mid-1970s, Parsons added sculpture to her practice. Inspired by the landscape surrounding her Long Island studio, she would collect wooden flotsam found on the beach and transform these forgotten objects into small constructions that can be likened to mementos, buildings and masks. This setting also impacted on Parsons’ life-long passion for writing poetry. Her numerous sketchbooks – a vital element of her creative process – were filled with poems, which appeared alongside watercolours of the coastal landscape.

Parsons’ 1974 retrospective at The Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, which followed the first international survey of her work at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 1968, took the American media by surprise as it was still not widely known that Parsons was a painter and sculptor. Major New York institutions, MoMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art among them, have now reassessed Parsons’ position as an artist and her work has been acquired alongside many of the great artists she discovered or brought to the attention of the American avant-garde.

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Untitled, c.1970s

Acrylic on canvas
Framed: 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation


Going Up, 1978

Acrylic on canvas
90.2 x 41.3 cm (35 1/2 x 16 1/4 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation

Eyes and Garden II, 1956

Gouache on paper
54.3 x 74.3 cm (21 3/8 x 29 1/4 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation

The Eye of the Cross, 1976

Acrylic on wood with hardware
48.3 x 38.1 x 5.7 cm (19 x 15 x 2 1/4 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation


Summer Fire, 1959

Oil and acrylic on canvas
Unframed: 120 x 104.8 cm (47 1/4 x 41 1/4 in); framed: 123.8 x 108.6 cm (48 3/4 x 42 3/4 in)
Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London, and Alexander Gray Associates, New York © The Betty Parsons Foundation


Untitled, 1956

Acrylic on linen
Unframed: 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in); framed: 80.6 x 106 x 4.4 cm (31 3/4 x 41 3/4 x 1 3/4 in)
Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London, and Alexander Gray Associates, New York © The Betty Parsons Foundation


Clown, 1963

Acrylic on canvas
Framed: 175.9 x 91.4 cm (69 1/4 x 36 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation


Moonshot, 1972

Acrylic on canvas
Framed: 122 x 122 cm (48 x 48 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation


Sultan, 1978

Acrylic on wood
103 x 69 x 7 cm (40 1/2 x 27 1/8 x 2 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation

Untitled, 1981

Acrylic on canvas
129.5 x 104.1 x 5.1 cm (51 x 41 x 2 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation

Untitled, c. 1960

Gouache on paper
Framed: 74.4 x 60.9 cm (29 1/4 x 24 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation

Voyage, 1977

Acrylic on unprimed canvas
Unframed: 117.5 x 117.5 cm (46 1/8 x 46 1/8 in); framed: 120.5 x 120.5 cm (47 1/2 x 47 1/2 in)
Courtesy: © The Betty Parsons Foundation


  • Untitled, c.1970s
  • Going Up, 1978
  • Eyes and Garden II, 1956
  • The Eye of the Cross, 1976
  • Summer Fire, 1959
  • Untitled, 1956
  • Clown, 1963
  • Moonshot, 1972
  • Sultan, 1978
  • Untitled, 1981
  • Untitled, c. 1960
  • Voyage, 1977


The Super-Gallerist Putting Women in the Picture

Francesca Gavin, Financial Times

November 2020

Celebrating the Gallerist Betty Parsons as an Artist

Meg Honigmann, Harper’s Bazaar

November 2019

Review: Betty Parsons, Alison Jacques Gallery

Emily LaBarge, Artforum

October 2019

A Renowned Dealer’s Unsung Art Practice

Tom Delavan, The New York Times Style Magazine

October 2019

Betty Parsons, the Painter

Zoe Pilger, frieze

October 2019

Game Changer: Betty Parsons

Wyatt Allgeier, Gagosian Quarterly

October 2019

Frieze week highlights

Sophie Barling, Apollo

September 2019

Louis Vuitton Puts a New Spotlight on Betty Parsons

Christina Cacouris, Garage

November 2017

The Legendary Betty Parsons Meets the Not-So-Legendary Betty Parsons

John Yau, Hyperallergic

July 2017

Pioneering Gallerist Betty Parsons Was Also an Important Artist

Alexxa Gotthardt, Artsy

June 2017

The Parsons Effect

Judith E. Stein and Helène Aylon, Art in America

November 2013

Review: Betty Parsons, Spanierman Modern

David Frankel, Artforum

December 2008

Art in Review: Betty Parsons

Roberta Smith, The New York Times

December 2006

Painter Who Championed Others Gets Her Due

Benjamin Genocchio, The New York Times

August 2006

Betty Parsons’s Two Lives

Carol Strickland, The New York Times

June 1992

Betty Parsons: Still Trying to Find the Creative World

Grace Lichtenstein, ARTnews

March 1979

A Keeper of the Treasure

Calvin Tomkins, The New Yorker

June 1975

Betty Parsons Exhibits in Monclair

Piri Halasz, The New York Times

March 1974


Betty Parsons: The Expanding World

Online Exhibition1 July31 August 2021

Betty Parsons: The Queen of the Circus

2 October9 November 2019


The Painted Sculpture of Betty Parsons

Naples Museum of Art


Betty Parsons: Artist, Dealer, Collector

Lee Hall


Betty Parsons: Paintings, Gouaches and Sculpture, 1955–68

Whitechapel Gallery



Betty Parsons

in ‘Friends in a Field: Conversations with Raoul De Keyser’, Mu.ZEE, Belgium

Betty Parsons

in ‘Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940–70’ Whitechapel Gallery, London

Betty Parsons Catalogue Raisonné Launches Online

The Betty Parsons and William P. Rayner Foundation

Betty Parsons & Michelle Stuart

in ‘Affinities for Abstraction: Women Artists on Eastern Long Island, 1950-2020’, The Parrish Art Museum, Long Island

Ana Mendieta & Betty Parsons

in ‘She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York’, Gracie Mansion, New York

Betty Parsons, Night, 1963. © The Betty Parsons Foundation

Betty Parsons: Blue Sky Very High

Art Omi, Ghent, New York