Isabel Bishop

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This article is about the American painter. For the EP by Unrest, see Isabel Bishop (EP). For the Australian sportsperson, see Isobel Bishop.
Isabel Bishop
Isabel Bishop, American painter and printmaker, 1902-1988.jpg
Isabel Bishop, 1959 - Photograph from the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Born (1902-03-03)March 3, 1902
Cincinnati, Ohio,
Died February 19, 1988(1988-02-19) (aged 85)
Nationality American
Education New York School of Applied Design for Women
Known for Painting, graphic design

Isabel Bishop (March 3, 1902 – February 19, 1988) was an American painter and graphic artist, who produced numerous paintings and prints of working women in realistic urban settings. She was widely exhibited in her lifetime, and was recognized with a number of awards including one for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, presented to her by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.


Bishop was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and brought up in Detroit, Michigan, before moving to New York City at the age of 16 to study illustration at the New York School of Applied Design for Women. After two years there she shifted from illustration to painting, and attended the Art Students League for four years until 1924. It was there that she studied with Guy Pène du Bois and with Kenneth Hayes Miller, from whom she adapted a technique which owed much to baroque Flemish painting.[1] During the early 1920s she also studied and painted in Woodstock, New York.

During the 1920s and 1930s she developed a realist style of painting, primarily depicting women in their daily routine on the streets of Manhattan. Her work was greatly influenced by Peter Paul Rubens and other Dutch and Flemish painters that she had discovered during trips to Europe. In 1932, Bishop began showing her work frequently at the newly opened Midtown Galleries, where her work would be represented throughout her career.[2]

She returned to the Art Students League as an instructor from 1936 to 1937. In 1940, Bishop was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full member in 1941.

In 1938 she painted a post office mural, Great Men Came from the Hills in New Lexington, Ohio as a part of the Federal Art Project. [3]

Although she never focused on landscape painting per se, many of the remaining early paintings exhibit an interest in natural lighting, trees, still-life, and street scenes, often in a forced 1:3 landscape ratio. Early pieces, of which few survive owing to the artist's intense self-criticism, are often on pressboard.

Isabel Bishop in her studio.

Bishop's mature works depict the inhabitants of New York's Union Square area, where she maintained a studio between 1934 and 1984. Her subjects are nearly always women who come from a blue-collar background, yet she was also known to produce panoramic landscape studies, and social scenes such as golf tournaments. Her portraits are often studies of individual heads (see Laughing Head, 1938, Butler Institute of American Art); the emphasis securely on the subject's expression – or of solitary nudes. Bishop also delighted in multiple-figure compositions, often containing two females engaged in various workaday interactions. In the post-war years Bishop's interest turned to more abstracted scenes of New Yorkers walking and traveling, in the streets or on the subways. Her signature changed many times over her career, ranging from the use of various pseudonyms to initials; some early pieces are signed I.B, or I. Bishop in both block and script.

In the mid-1940s, E. P. Dutton commissioned Bishop to illustrate a new edition of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. Bishop produced 31 pen-and-ink drawings (the originals are now at the Pierpoint Morgan Library).[4]


  • The Isabel Bishop Papers, 1914-1983 have been digitized and posted online by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. These primary source historical documents include biographical documents, correspondence, writings and notes, exhibition catalogs, photographs of Bishop with her husband and in her studio, original artwork including 8 sketchbooks, loose sketches, prints, and watercolor figure studies.
  • The American indie rock band Unrest released an EP named the Isabel Bishop E.P. in 1993, with Bishop's picture on the cover.
  • Bishop is in the Permanent collection of Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida.
  • One of Bishop's illustrations for Pride and Prejudice-- of Elizabeth Bennet reading a letter from Jane-- will be prominently featured on the £10 note honoring Jane Austen. The note will be in circulation in 2016.[5]



  1. ^ Phillips Collection (2013). Made in the U.S.A.: American art from the Phillips Collection 1850-1970. Susan Behrends Frank. New Haven : Washington, D.C: Yale University Press ; The Phillips Collection. p. 234. ISBN 9780300196153. 
  2. ^ Corley, Erin, A Finding Aid to the Isabel Bishop Papers, 1914-1983, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  3. ^ Park, Marlene and Gerald E. Markowitz, Democratic vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, Temple University Press, Philadelphia 1984
  4. ^ Yglesias, Helen. Isabel Bishop. NY: Rizzoli, 1999, p. 23.
  5. ^ Jane Austen to feature on Bank of England banknotes, Banknote Character Announcements, Bank of England, July 2013.


  • Helen Yglesias, Isabel Bishop, New York, Rizzoli, 1988
  • Thompson, James. Isabel Bishop 1902. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2005.
  • Isabel Bishop. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2005.