Tidying Up

Isabel Bishop (American, 1902-1988)

Currently on View in K205
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In Tidying Up, a woman, perhaps a secretary or salesperson, uses a pocket mirror to check her teeth for lipstick smudges.

Bishop saw working women as participants in an American tradition of upward mobility. She used active brushwork and the figure’s physical movement to express this social advancement.

Along with Reginald Marsh, Bishop was part of the Fourteenth Street School, a group of artists who sought to capture contemporary life in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Isabel Bishop was part of a loosely knit group of artists that included Reginald Marsh. Known as the Fourteenth Street School, they sought to capture contemporary life in New York City in the 1930s and '40s. Bishop is primarily associated with studies of young women caught during idle moments away from their jobs. She spent more than ten years painting the secretaries, sales clerks, and blue-collar workers who lived or worked around Union Square. Her favorite subject was women going about their everyday lives, eating, talking, putting on makeup, taking off their coats. These ordinary motions produced facial expressions that Bishop felt revealed the personality of the people she portrayed.

In Tidying Up, a woman, perhaps a secretary or salesperson, uses a pocket mirror to check her teeth for lipstick smudges. Bishop saw such women as participants in an American tradition of upward mobility, and she used active brushwork and a sense of the figure's physical movement as metaphors for this social advancement. Bishop's sepia tones achieve a transparency that results in a sense of vibration and thus of motion. At the same time, the warm brown recalls old master drawings of the Italian Renaissance, a taste that Bishop shared with her teacher, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and with Marsh.

It's a moment in [the women's] lives when they are really in motion, because they, of course, are looking for husbands and, at the same time, they're earning their living.
-Isabel Bishop, 1957

Curatorial Summary

A native of Cincinnati, Isabel Bishop was educated at Detroit’s John Wicker Art School, the New York School of Applied Design for Women, and the Art Students League of New York, where later she was an instructor in life drawing and composition. Bishop became part of a group of artists known as the Fourteenth Street School, who were influenced by the realism of the Ashcan School. The Fourteenth Street School included their leader Kenneth Hayes Miller, Reginald Marsh, Bishop, and the brothers Raphael and Moses Soyer. The name of the group came from their focus on urban scenes from Union Square on 14th Street in New York They painted scenes of daily life that concentrated on individuals from lower socioeconomic groups. Isabel Bishop created canvases full of female subjects, like her mentor Miller, who often painted canvases of female shoppers.

References

Heller, Jules, and Nancy G. Heller, eds. North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Todd, Ellen Wiley. The “New Woman” Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Yglesias, Helen. Isabel Bishop. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.

purchased from Midtown Galleries in New York

Object Information

artist
Isabel Bishop (American, 1902-1988)
creation date
1941
materials
oil on masonite
dimensions
15 x 11-1/2 in.
23-1/8 x 19-7/8 in. (framed)
accession number
43.24
credit line
Delavan Smith Fund
copyright
© Isabel Bishop
collection
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945
colors

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