Betty Lane was born in 1907, in Washington D.C., the youngest of six children and the daughter of a Marine Corps General. Betty was pretty and outgoing and received considerable attention. She was close to both her parents although her mother was said to be the one that molded her ambition and independence. Lane's artistic curiosity was established in childhood, with her first art class and the gift of a box of watercolors. At this time, she made her decision to become an artist although she was not sure how or what needed to be done.
As an artist Betty was a prodigy. It could be said that Lane was both self-taught and professionally educated. A relative recalled she was not a good student and except for the actual doing of music and art, she got very little classroom education. Initially, she trained by copying Saturday Evening Post covers. After perfecting the art of replication Lane moved on to oil, although the medium frustrated her. She decided not to try again until art school.
Directly after high school, Lane trained at the Corcoran School of Art, in Washington, D.C. She did not enjoy her education at the Corcoran and wished instead to study in Paris. However Lane acknowledged that her parents were financially pressed and transferred instead to Massachusetts Normal Art School (now Massachusetts College of Art). While there, she reviewed the various museums and galleries in Boston for the college magazine.
Eventually, in 1928 at the age of 21, Lane traveled to Paris with her sister and studied under well-known cubist and colorist Andre L'Hote. She received formal training in his studio tucked in behind the Gare Montparnasse where people were jockeying for space. After almost two years, Lane returned to the States. In Washington, she met millionaire art patron Duncan Phillips of the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Phillips Collection) who gave her a private exhibition. With the success of her show she was able to return to Europe. Later, to her delight, she was informed that master Henri Matisse had noticed her work at the Philips Gallery and demanded to know who had produced it. He grunted many “Oui, Oui's” and told the staff that it “pleased him very much."
In England, Betty married Gerald Noxon, a Canadian writer and filmmaker. She stepped back from painting and in 1936, she gave birth to her son, Nicolas. In 1939, Hitler’s attack forced the new family to flee to rural Canada. There, alone and isolated much of the time, Betty began to focus again on her art. However, by the end of World War II, with the rise of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, her earlier success was somewhat overshadowed.
Betty continually struggled for independence with respect to what she wanted to do and where she wanted to settle. In 1950, after 20 years of marriage, she was divorced and settled on Cape Cod. She later began a teaching career at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. In time, she was able to travel throughout Europe, Latin America and Asia. She retired from teaching after 14 years and devoted the rest of her life to painting. Throughout Lane's artistic career, she kept numerous journals, which provide insight into her dedication to art and the ideas behind individual paintings. Lane continued to paint until her death in 1996. A major retrospective of her work was mounted the following year at the Cape Cod Museum of Art.
ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK
The passage of time often secrets talents into the folds of history and leaves work for artful historians to uncover. In 1941, ArtNews wrote that her work had, "a flair for design and a special talent for editing nature down to a mood…some of the compositional simplicity of her teacher, Andre L’Hote." In 1944, the New York Times described Lane’s early work at Galerie St. Etienne, as "stark simplicity with a strong semi-abstract tendency." The same year the New York Herald Tribune categorized her work as "decadent and bare. Instead of being drab and chilling to the spirit, these pictures contain a surprising amount of pleasing color and are smoothly and capably painted."
Lane’s earlier work is influenced by surrealism and her sentiment to a subject. As, curator of Special Exhibitions at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Ann Wilson Lloyd, remarked in 1997, "Lane kept her flair for going beyond merely pretty, pushing it further in some works than others. Intelligent and forever searching, Betty Lane maintained a fiercely independent soul." This was at a time when the contemporary art world was looking into academic impressionism and American regional painting and also becoming aware of the European Modernist movements.
By the 1940s, Lane sorted out her many influences and painted with distinction. She painted portraits of family, friends and close collectors. The compositions revealed an insight into individual lives. On June 8th, 1941, the New York Times stated, "Most of these canvases and watercolors are small, simple in pattern, detached in spirit, very personal in conceptions and treatment…(with) an evident tendency in the direction of semi-abstract design." Her work goes beyond "pretty" reaching into the emotions of the portrait as well as the viewer. Often her works included dark and powerful of people as well as desolate street scenes and landscapes. Lane’s son remarked,
These portraits struck me as a memorable record of a neighborhood, and a community, over time. Yet she had never exhibited many of them, saying that, although most of the subjects were now dead, there were still family members around who might be offended. What struck me the most was how her technique, approach and vision continued to evolve throughout her working life. Just as, in her everyday conversation, she always had a fresh take on the world, so in her art she never continued to produce a type of work simply because she could do it well, but seemed always to be seeking a newer and better language to express her evolving vision of people and the world. Her natural connection with children, and her ability to perceive them as full individuals, may account in part for her extraordinary portraits of them, which some, compelling qualities of early American primitive portraiture.
Her skills relied on basic training of classical composition, balance and harmony. Lane wanted her pieces to speak of her feelings often manipulating earlier techniques such as controlling the planes of color.
Betty’s son Nicholas is the subject of many of her portraits, as they trace his life through childhood and adolescence. The complexities of their relationship that between a single mother and her only child, contribute an intense substance to her works. One painting of Nicholas in particular highlights the force and edge that she injected into her reflections of him. In the painting, which resides on the cover of a retrospective booklet titled, Betty Lane: Painting a Life, she places her son in the center of the vertical picture plain. His frontally seated body, shown from his lap to the top of his head, dominates the entirety of the canvas. He is dressed in a zip-up beige sweater, red and blue striped suspenders, and dark blue trousers. He clutches a green toy bus with his left hand. The emphasis of the painting is clearly placed on his face, which is very large and seems to only be connected to his body by a small dark stump of a neck. His eyes, as in many of her portraits, are inescapable in the style of the Byzantine era. Their huge blue irises stare intently back at the viewer but his exact feelings are left unclear. His body is painted in a realistic way in which Betty uses gradients to shows the transitions between light and shade. The background, however, is abstracted with random blue and white brushstrokes that form a sort of halo around his head. The portrait provides an intriguing image of childhood, a time of innocence and mystery. Betty’s obvious interest in the sitter gives her painting a relatable quality that any parent can understand while also distancing viewers from her singular interaction with her son.
Lane painted alongside artists like Jackson Pollock during the emerging era of abstract expressionism. Her realistic paintings were sometimes overlooked. In retrospect, however, the creative vitality and insightfulness of her work shines through. Her willingness to be different and to achieve an intimate, and slightly unnerving, glimpse into her subjects proves to be the legacy of such a skilled painter and independent woman.
Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
1907 Born in Washington, D.C.
1928 Travels to Paris and studies under L’Hote
1929 Returns to Falls Church, Virginia for Christmas for parents
1930 Show for Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington D.C.
1931 Married Gerald Noxon
1936 Birth of son
1946 Moved back to United States and then Canada
1948 Settled in Brewster on Cape Cod
1952 Teacher at Miss Portor's School in Farmington, Conneticut for 14 years
1965 Retired from full time teaching
1996 Passed away on March 24th at age 89
1. Betty Lane: Painting a Life. Cape Museum of Fine Arts: Dennis, Massachusetts. 1997.
2. Davenport, Ray. Davenport’s Art Reference. The Gold Edition.
3. Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson. The Artists Bluebook: American Artists 16th Century to March 2005.
4. Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art. 1999.
5. Lane, Betty. Askart.com. 8/15/05.
6. Lane, Betty. My Life in Art. Transcribed by Leigh Ryan. February 22, 2005.
2008 Betty Lane, Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
2006 Betty Lane: The Road Less Taken, Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
1999 Julie Heller Gallery, Provincetown, MA
1997 Painting a Life, Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, Massachusetts
1984 Cape Cod Conservatory, MA
1973 Ethel Putterman Gallery, Orleans, MA
1958 Carl Bredemeier Gallery Buffalo, NY
1958 Scargo Gallery, Dennis, MA
1948 Forty-Fourth Gallery, New York, NY
1948 Cape Cod Art Association, MA
1948 Cape Cod Art Association, MA
1945 Ontario Society of Artists, Ontario, Canada
1944 Galeries St. Etienne
1941 Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1941 Galerie St. Etienne
1931 Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington D.C. (now The Phillips Collection)