The papers of realist painter Isabel Bishop date from 1914 to 1983 and measure 2.6 linear feet. The collection documents Bishop's painting career, her friendship with other artists, and her participation in several arts organizations. There are scattered biographical documents, correspondence with fellow artists such as Peggy Bacon, Warren Chappell, Edward Laning, and R. B. Kitaj, and with writers, curators, museums, galleries, arts organizations, and others. Also found are arts organization files, Bishop's writings about Warren Chappell and friend Reginald Marsh, notes, exhibition catalogs, news clippings, and other printed material, photographs of Bishop and her artwork, and photographs of Reginald and Felicia Marsh. Original artwork includes 8 sketchbooks, loose sketches, prints, and watercolor figure studies.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of realist painter Isabel Bishop date from 1914 to 1983 and measure 2.6 linear feet. The collection documents Bishop's painting career, her friendship with other artists, and her participation in several arts organizations. Scattered biographical documents include awards and a file on her participation in art juries.
Bishop was friends with many artists and cultural figures and her correspondence includes letters to and from artists such as John Taylor Arms, Peggy Bacon, Peter Blume, Warren Chappell (many letters from Chappell are illustrated), Sidney Delevante, Edwin Dickinson, Philip Evergood, John Folinsbee, Malvina Hoffman, Jo Hopper, James Kearns, Leon Kroll, Clare Leighton, Jack Levine, Alice Neel, Hobson Pittman, Fairfield Porter, Abraham Rattner, Katherine Schmidt, Henry Schnakenberg, Raphael Soyer, George Tooker, Stuyvesant Van Veen, Franklin Watkins, Mahonri Young, and William Zorach. Bishop not only corresponded with artists but also many poets, authors, historians, and dancers, such as Van Wyck Brooks, John Canaday, John Ciardi, Merce Cunningham, Babette Deutsch, Edna Ferber, Richmond Lattimore, Marianne Moore, Lewis Mumford, Kurt Vonnegut, and Glenway Westcott. Also found are letters from many galleries, museums, and schools which exhibited or purchased her work, including curators Juliana Force and Una Johnson.
Bishop kept files from her affiliations with the American Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers and the New Society of Artists, containing mostly membership and financial records, and a file on a UNESCO conference. Unfortunately, files documenting her membership and vice presidency of the National Institute of Arts & Letters are not found here.
A small amount of Bishop's writings and notes include essays about friends and artists Reginald Marsh and Warren Chappell. Printed material consists of exhibition catalogs and announcements, news clippings, magazines, and a design by G. Alan Chidsey for a book about Bishop. Photographs depict Bishop with her husband and in her studio, her artwork, and also include three photographs of her friend, Reginald Marsh.
Original artwork includes eight small sketchbooks, loose pen and ink sketches, intaglio prints, watercolor figure studies, and a drawing of Bishop by Aaron Bohrod.
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1943-1975 (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1939-1983 (Box 1; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Organization Files, 1924-1937, 1951-1952 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings & Notes, 1937-1960s (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1930-1979 (Box 2; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, 1914, circa 1920s-1975 (Box 2, OV 5; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, circa 1940s-1970s (Box 2-4, OV 5; 0.4 linear feet)
Isabel Bishop (1902-1988) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to John Remsen Bishop and Anna Bartram Newbold Bishop. Shortly after her birth the family moved to Detroit, Michigan. As a child Bishop took art classes and had a growing interest in drawing. In 1918 at the age of 16 she left home and moved to New York City where she enrolled in the School of Applied Design for Women to be an illustrator. However, her real interest was in painting, not the graphic arts, and she enrolled in the Art Students League in 1920. There she studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Guy Pene du Bois and met many young artists, including Reginald Marsh and Edwin Dickinson, both of whom became close friends. She took classes until 1924 and rented a studio and living space on 14th Street in a neighborhood where many artists maintained studios at the time.
Bishop began exhibiting her work and participated in artist groups, including the Whitney Studio Club and the New Society of Artists. 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.
In 1934 she married Harold Wolff, a neurologist, and moved with him to Riverdale, New York. Bishop kept her studio in Manhattan, moving from 14th Street to Union Square. She remained in her Union Square studio for fifty years (1934-1984). From 1936 to 1937 she taught at the Art Students League and in 1940 her son Remsen was born. In 1941 she was named a member of the National Academy of Design and from 1944 to 1946 she was the Vice President of the National Institute of Arts & Letters, the first woman to hold an executive position with that organization. She wrote articles and joined other artists in speaking out in support of realist painting and against the abstract style that was dominating the New York art scene.
During her long career which lasted into the 1980s, Bishop exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions, traveled throughout the U. S. as an exhibition juror, and won many awards for her work, including the award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts presented by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Also found at the Archives of American Art are three oral history interviews with Isabel Bishop, April 15, 1959, May 29, 1959, and November 12-December 11, 1987.
The Whitney Museum of American Art and Midtown Galleries loaned additional Bishop papers to the Archives for microfilming on reels NY59-4 and NY59-5. These items were returned to the lenders after microfilming and are not described in the container listing of this finding aid.
The collection was donated in several installments by Isabel Bishop from 1959 to 1983.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
The Isabel Bishop papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.