Anna Whelan Betts
(1873-1959) American, Illustrator.
The oldest daughter of an affluent Philadelphia family, Betts studied at the Pennsylvania Academy. Post-graduation, she moved to Paris, where artist Gustave-Claude-Etinenne Courtois tutored her in oil painting. Upon returning to the United States, she took classes in illustration at Drexel University under Howard Pyle during his five-year stint at the school (1895-1900).
Pyle made introductions on her behalf to art editors in the rapidly expanding periodical publishing business. Through his connections, she received her first commission from Collier’s in 1899. The job kick-started her career, and she soon became known for her illustrations in other popular magazines of the time, like Century, Harper’s, The Ladies Home Journal, and others.
Her work consists primarily of Victorian (and Edwardian) figurative scenes, typically of girls swathed in fabric being courted or otherwise engaged in more and less society-approved leisure pursuits (as in the Everybody's Magazine series shown here). Cascading floral matter is sometimes in play. While her male counterparts in the Pyle tradition were busy tackling pirates and depicting historical subjects like the Revolutionary War, there were plenty of opportunities for talented turn-of-the-century illustrators of romantic subjects like Betts.
Walt Reed described Betts' work "characterized by its great beauty and sensitivity," (see The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000) an accurate assessment especially of her painted subjects. More isolated drawn subjects can be less persuasive.
Betts received numerous honors awards, most famous being a bronze medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and was one of several artists chosen to illustrate one of twenty-two volumes of the Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was assigned the first volume by publisher Houghton Mifflin 1n 1900.
In periodical and book publishing Anna Whelan Betts is particularly associated with the last years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. She was in the first generation of illustrators who worked for color reproduction, especially in Harper's Monthly and Century.