Publication

Robert Rauschenberg, letter to Betty Parsons, October 18, 1951

Part of Rauschenberg Research Project

  • Robert Rauschenberg, letter to Betty Parsons, October 18, 1951

    Robert Rauschenberg, letter to Betty Parsons, postmarked October 18, 1951. Reproduced in Walter Hopps, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s (Houston: Menil Foundation and Houston Fine Art Press, 1991), 230.

  • Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel] in the artist's studio, 1991

    Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting [three panel] (1951) in the artist’s Lafayette Street studio, New York. Photo: Dorothy Zeidman, 1991, courtesy the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

  • Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel] showing texture of painted surface

    Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting [three panel], 1951 (detail)

  • View of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel] (verso) showing raw canvas and inscriptions

    Robert Rauschenberg White Painting [three panel], 1951 (verso)

  • Details of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel] (verso) showing signature and inscriptions

    Composite of four details showing Robert Rauschenberg’s signatures and inscriptions on the tacking of White Painting [three panel] (1951)

  • Detail of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel] (side view) showing evidence of repainting

    Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting [three panel], 1951 (detail of side)

  • Details of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel] (verso) showing the artist's thumbprints

    Composite of three details showing Robert Rauschenberg’s thumbprints on the verso of White Painting [three panel] (1951)

  • Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel], SFMOMA, 2008

    Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting [three panel] (1951) in the SFMOMA exhibition The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now (November 8, 2008–February 8, 2009). Henning Lohner and Van Carlson’s 4’33” in Berlin (with John Cage), raw material video pictures catalogue number 001 (1990) is on the monitor at left, and a performance of John Cage’s 4’33” is taking place in the foreground. Pictured artworks: © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; © Henning Lohner and Van Carlson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

  • Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting [three panel], SFMOMA, 2008

    Installation view of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting [three panel] (1951) in the SFMOMA permanent collection presentation Matisse and Beyond, 2008. Pictured artworks: © Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Jim Hodges; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

  • White Painting [three panel]

    Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting [three panel], Thu Oct 18 00:00:00 PST 1951; latex paint on canvas, 72 in. x 108 in. (182.88 cm x 274.32 cm); Purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; photo: Ben Blackwell


A few months after his first solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, in spring 1951, Rauschenberg wrote an impassioned letter to Parsons about a new body of work, his series of White Paintings. Excited at the turn these new paintings had taken, he explained that “they take you to a place in painting art has not been.” Rauschenberg pushed to show the White Paintings immediately, but Parsons declined.

The original letter is missing from the Betty Parsons Papers at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. This PDF shows the letter as it was reproduced in the 1991 catalogue for the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s, organized by Walter Hopps.