Louis Betts was born in
Little Rock, Arkansas. His art instruction came primarily from his
father who was also a painter. At sixteen, he did his first portrait
of his violin master in exchange for lessons. Betts focused
primarily on landscape painting until he was twenty-four. He then
studied portrait painting at the Pennsylvania Academy for a year.
The first Cresson scholarship permitted him to study for two years
abroad. Betts then remained in France, England, Holland, Spain, and
Italy for seven years painting portraits in court circles.
The late John Lane, English publisher, once visited the Art Institute, and wrote, "The most live portrait in the exhibition is far and away La Verne W. Noyes, by Louis Betts. The skillful handling of hands is a characteristic of this strong artist. He probably belongs, though he may not know it, to the great traditional family of portrait painters, one of whom painted the time of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, and whose works may be seen in the National Gallery of London." He later called on the artist and gave him a copy of the Betts genealogy. Betts painted a portrait of an historic member of the family, Elizabeth Betts of Wortham, who he painted in a dress made by his wife after a description in old family letters. This painting won the first Altman Prize of the National Academy in 1923, and was then shown in the Toledo Art Museum.
Betts painted such subjects as Emerson Hough, Hamlin Garland, Cardinal Mundelein, William O. Goodman, Drs. William and Charles Mayo, Dr. Goodspeed of the University of Chicago, the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, as well as graceful groups of children. He insisted on simple and beautiful costumes; and in some instances created outdoor backgrounds, works of art in themselves, revealing his ability in landscape, which was a part of his general artistic excellence.
Louis Betts helped found the artist colony in Park Ridge, Illinois, is represented in the Art Institute of Chicago and elsewhere, and was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
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