Isabel Bishop


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Painter and printmaker. Principally interested in urban life, she developed a fluid and delicate technique to convey a lyric potential in her subjects. Like her associates Kenneth Hayes Miller and Reginald Marsh, Bishop wished to portray modern experience with traditional means. Less literal than they, she often introduced imaginative elements, as in Virgil and Dante in Union Square (Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, 1932), or reshuffled realistic elements within abstractly organized compositions, as in Subway Scene (Whitney Museum, 1957–58). Born in Cincinnati, Bishop grew up primarily in Detroit. In 1918 she moved to New York and soon enrolled at the Art Students League, where she encountered Miller and Marsh as instructors. A principal influence on her development, Miller encouraged painting the city milieu and may have fostered her special interest in women as subjects. However, Bishop often portrayed office workers or saleswomen, rather than the more passive consumers and spectators that Miller favored. Although dedicated primarily to a nonpolitical form of American Scene painting, she also painted studio interiors and nudes. Whatever their occupations or activities, her generally pensive women appear to possess private mental lives. Bishop devised a refined and luminous style well suited to her perception of delicacy and beauty in the midst of urban uproar. With time, her delineation of form became looser, giving her work a hazy ambience that suggests the instability of modern life. She also became a proficient printmaker, known especially for etchings of quiet moments in the lives of her subjects. From 1934 until his death in 1962, she was married to neurosurgeon Harold George Wolff. She died at her home in the Riverdale area of the Bronx, where she had resided for some time.

Subjects: Art.

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