Betty Guy Biography

Betty Guy




Painter, illustrator, and printmaker Betty Guy was born Betty Lipschitz on September 15, 1920 in San Francisco, California, one of four children born to Lithuanian immigrants Joseph and Fania Lipschitz. She earned a Bachelor's in English at San Francisco State University, and then enrolled in graduate courses at University of California, Berkeley. While there she began taking art classes, which altered her course. Inspired to pursue visual arts, she left Berkeley to study at the Art Students League in New York, then traveled to Europe. There, she studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and the Alliance Francais in Paris, and held her first solo show at the Galerie Henry Tronche on Rue de la Boetie. Two of the works that hung in the show were purchased by the president of the Ministers of France, Albert PIerre Sarrault.

When she returned to the United States she began exhibiting at Gump's in San Francisco; she would become the longest continuing artist to display at the famous department store. In 1957 she was commissioned by Viking Press publicist Pat Covici to paint a watercolor of author John Steinbeck's cottage in Bruton, England, where Steinbeck lived with his wife Elaine. This led to a lifelong friendship between Guy and the Steinbecks, about which Guy published a memoir titled Surprise for Steinbeck in 1992.

Travel took Guy all over the world, painting as she went. Her most noted works were those of Paris and of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1961 she was given a solo show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, called the "most delightful show of the year" by famed arts critic for the San Francisco Chronical, Alfred Frankenstein. By the late 1960s Guy had established herself as a painter of San Francisco daily life and she recieved commissions for commercial work by institutions throughout the city, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Stanford Court Hotel, the Port of San Francisco, and more; she was also hired as the house artist for the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet, for whom she worked until her death in 2016. 

Guy's reputation for Bay Area cityscapes and other metropolitan subjects brought her work to the attention of famous visitors to San Francisco, including Gianni Versace, Luciano Pavarotti, and Queen Elizabeth II who, after visiting with Prince Philip in the 1980s, was gifted a Betty Guy watercolor by the director of the Port of San Francisco. In addition to watercolors, Guy experimented with intaglio printmaking, monotypes, and photography. The city remained her home despite her tireless travels, and she remained in the Bernal Heights neighborhood until her death of July 22, 2016.

Learn more about Betty Guy on her website.