Isabel Bishop arrived in New York in 1918 and from that point on the city and its people were her primary subjects. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she began her artistic studies at John Wicker's Art School in Detroit. In New York, she first enrolled in the New York School of Applied Design for Women to study illustration, then transferred to the Art Students League. At the League she studied painting under Kenneth Hayes Miller and, briefly, Guy Pène du Bois, both of whom were lasting influences on her. In 1926 Bishop took a studio on 14th Street near Union Square. That neighborhood and the people who frequented it became the focus of her work and the source of her inspiration. In 1934, she moved to Riverdale, north of Manhattan, and took a new studio on Broadway overlooking Union Square, commuting daily to Manhattan to observe, sketch, and paint. Bishop had her first solo exhibition at Midtown Galleries in New York in 1933. Since that time, her work has been regularly featured in numerous individual and group exhibitions.
Bishop came of age as an artist during the Depression, and the economic and social upheavals of that period colored her approach to art. Although she was aware of European modernist trends, her own work remained staunchly realistic. Like Reginald Marsh, she found a wealth of material for her paintings in and around Union Square, but unlike Marsh, her work is not satirical, exaggerated, or caricatured. Rather, Bishop's vision is empathetic to her subjects. Her paintings and drawings deal with the essence of everyday life for city dwellers and often convey their sense of loneliness and isolation. Her heroines were the shop girls and working women, whom she depicted in the streets or subway, on their way to work or at leisure in the park. Through her solidly constructed figures, ordinary people and mundane activities are imbued with a sense of drama and monumentality.