Isabel Bishop painted lively and poignant figures that captured transient moments of daily life. She specialized in a sensitive but blunt realist style, and was inspired by subway stations, working women on lunch breaks, and people ambling through Union Square. Her heavily textured images were creating through an exacting and multi-layered process of preparing and working her canvases, which was in part inspired by Rubens.
Bishop was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1902. At the age of sixteen, she left her family in Detroit to study at the New York School of Applied Design. In 1920 she entered the Art Students League, studying under Kenneth Miller Hayes and Guy Pene du Bois, and became close with Reginald Marsh and Edwin Dickinson. Through the influence of her teachers, she became interested in studies of character and moments of everyday life. A trip to Europe in 1931 brought the inspiration of Dutch and Flemish painters such as Adriaen Brouwer and Peter Paul Rubens.
Represented by the Midtown Galleries for the length of her career, she was also favored with showings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate International Exposition, and the 1940 New York World’s Fair. She was awarded first prize at the American Society of Graphic Artists, and in 1987 received a gold medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
A highly active and celebrated member of the New York art world, she was a founding member of the realist art journal Reality, was involved in the Whitney Studio Club, and taught at the Art Students League. Bishop was elected as a member of the National Academy of Design, and in 1946 was the first woman to become an officer of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. As part of the New Deal, Bishop produced a mural for a post office in New Lexington, Ohio. She was later commissioned to illustrate Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. After decades spent working in her studio in Union Square, she passed away in New York City in 1988.
Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate