Betty Guy (American, 1920-2016) wan an internationally renowned painter, illustrator and San Francisco native primarily known for her international cityscape and landscapes in watercolors and pen & ink, as well as illustration work, limited edition and monotype prints. Betty was born on September 15, 1920 in San Francisco, CA, as the only daughter of Joseph and Fania Lipshiltz, and she had three older brothers; George, Boris and Irving. Her parents and brothers originally emigrated from Vilnius, Lithuania to the United States and she was born shortly after—the first of her family born in the United States.
Betty was raised in San Francisco and graduated from Lowell High School and earned her bachelor's degree in English Literature from San Francisco State University. She then went on to enter the University of California at Berkeley for graduate work in the visual arts. She furthered her studies at the Art Students’ League in NYC, and at the Alliance Francaise and at the L'Académie de la Grande Chaumière, both in Paris.
“Watercolor has to happen almost magically,” she says. “Watercolor is its own master--you go along with it”. Betty doesn’t go anywhere without her trusted pens from Paris and a bottle of ink, ready to paint and sketch, in whatever city she seems to find herself in. She travels to Europe often on annual trips and stays in hotels or inns that have a view outside their windows, “I love finding a room with a view, so rain or snow I can still work,” she says.
“Her work is full of sunlight and air, the vagabond's feeling of freedom and as she expresses it ‘the face of history in a facade.’”
Betty has exhibited in many cities nationally and around the world. Her first exhibit was at the Galerie Henri Tronche on Rue de La Boétie, Paris, and her poster hung in the café & restaurant Les Deux Magots. Albert Pierre Sarrault (French, 1872-1962), the former 109th & 116th President of the French Council of Ministers of France, bought two of her paintings. Betty's first museum exhibit was at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor on December 15, 1961 and the late art critic Alfred Frankenstein of the San Francisco Chronicle called it, “The most delightful small show of the year.” She also had a long time exhibit at the University at California, San Francisco (UCSF) Faculty/Alumni House, which ended in 2005, and once again showed here watercolors there from September-December, 2007. Other exhibitions include; The Trojanowska Gallery, San Francisco, CA; the Yoseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan; American Watercolor Society, NYC; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; American representative at the Bicentennial Exhibit, Amerika Hous, Vienna, Austria; Curacao Museum, Netherlands, Antilles; the American Embassy, Bonn, Germany (1988); The American Library, Bucharest, Romania (1989); and at Gump's, San Francisco, CA.
She was the company artist for the San Francisco Opera House for many years beginning in the early 1980’s, doing the program covers and painting scenes from the company rehearsals. She has met some of her more famous clients via the Opera. Beginning in 1956, Betty had an exhibit at Gumps department store gallery in San Francisco, CA, and became the longest running artist who had featured and sold works through their retail location for over three decades, before it moved to its Post Street, location. She did commission paintings for the Port of San Francisco which were a series of watercolors of the Embarcadero among other San Francisco scenes. She painted the UCSF Founders Day invitations which featured a view of the Medical Center from the vantage point of Hugo Street in 1998. Betty loved to paint and has some favorite locations that she can paint again and again, and had stated, “If Monet can do his lilies paintings over and over, I can do Paris and Venice over and over.” Betty was justifiably proud that her work has been shown all over the world with a U.S. Department of State endorsement as a notable American artist. She's enjoyed dinner parties with artists, poets, authors and playwrights to include Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow and narrowly missed meeting Marilyn Monroe.
For the remainder of her life, Betty resided in a home high on a hill in Bernal Heights, with a spectacular view that overlooked her native San Francisco. Up until the fall of 2015, she had been still actively painting the seasonal dress rehearsals at the San Francisco Opera House until health issues kept her homebound. Betty sadly passed away on July 22, 2016 at her home in Bernal Heights at the age of ninety-five. Services were held at Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco on August 2, 2016. Immediately following her burial there was a Reception at Guild Hall, Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St, San Francisco, CA. After her passing, San Francisco Opera retail manager Jay Stebley sent this message to his co-workers:
“I was afraid that Betty’s health was in decline in the last year when her elfin appearances in the Opera House became fewer until she finally called to say she wouldn’t be bringing her paintings in last fall. She had shown up without fail every season for decades to sketch the dress rehearsals for the wonderful water colors she then had autographed by the artists on stage. Hundreds of patrons have purchased her paintings over the years, the proceeds going to San Francisco Opera, a company she loved with a passion. There are few folks here who don’t know her work since it has appeared on program covers, books about SFO, in galleries and, of course, on SFO stationery and prints. Her distinctive and cheerful style captured the essence of grand opera and she gloried in the beauty of the War Memorial Opera house itself. Please read her obituary; you will realize what an extraordinary and wide-ranging artist she was.
And she was a wonderful, loving person, a perpetual smile in sensible shoes. The last couple of seasons, I have been asked almost every night by patrons missing her presence and her work in the Opera Shop about her health and it is with great sadness that I share this news with you. I’ll miss the kiss on my cheek she always dispensed on opening night…”
Collections: The Queen of England (watercolor rendition of the Port of San Francisco) when she and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the city on their ship the Britannia in the 1980's, and Buckingham Palace later sent a letter to the director of the Port which read, “Thank you for the splendid painting by Betty Guy…The picture will always awaken some very happy memories of their stay in your lovely city.”; Luciano Pavoratti; Plácido Domingo; Gianni Versace; and John Steinbeck whom she also became good friends with. In the spring of 1959, Betty was commissioned by her friend and Steinbeck's editor Pat Covici, to do a painting of Steinbeck's home in England called “Discove Cottage”, in Bruton. She met Covici and his wife years earlier on a ship while traveling through the Mediterranean in 1954, and formed a life-long friendship them. The painting was to be a surprise Christmas present, and Steinbeck was so impressed with the finished painting that he returned the favor by giving her a copy of one of his books Winter of Our Discontent, with an inscription inside that read, “For Betty, don't just sit there...paint.” She later wrote a short book about her 1957 trip to England where she met Steinbeck and his wife entitled, Surprise for Steinbeck (1992), and The Bodleian Library at the Oxford Library owns a copy of her book; and Pat Clark Art Collection in Iowa Falls owns a beautiful triptych etching titled “Two Sopranos and a Ballerina” which consists of three signed etchings featuring mezzo soprano Marilyn Horne, the late soprano Beverly Sills, and former prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory.
Commercial Work: The San Francisco Symphony; Resident artist for The San Francisco Opera; Resident artist for The San Francisco Ballet; The Denver Symphony; The New Haven Symphony; The Port of San Francisco, CA; The Bank of America, Stockholm, Sweden; Transamerica; The International Chemical Company, Libertyville, IL; The Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) 76 Oil Company (now Chevron Corporation); The Heritage Financial Foundation of Beaver Creek, Colorado; The Sir Francis Drake Hotel; The Stanford Court Hotel, San Francisco, CA; The Mark Hopkins Hotel; UCSF and French Hospital Medical Centers; The InterContinental Hotel, NYC; the Japanese Tea Gardens; Grace Cathedral; The Hyatt Regency Hotel; and the Royal Viking Cruise Line.
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(Written by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, sources: Furnished upon request.)