Noon Hour, 1935
Published 1946 in an edition of 250
Courtesy of Pia Gallo
Possessing a keen sense of observation and self-assured technique, Isabel Bishop was one of the foremost American women artists of the early to mid-twentieth century and stands among the very best of all artists that remained dedicated to realism in a period increasingly dominated by abstraction. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bishop was reared in Detroit, Michigan, where she began her formal art training before moving to New York at sixteen to study illustration at the New York School of Applied Design for Women. Two years later she enrolled at the Art Students League to advance her fine art practice. There, working with Kenneth Hayes Miller, Robert Henri, and Guy Pène du Bois, she began to focus on scenes of New York City’s bustling street life. Occupying a studio in downtown’s Union Square at Broadway and Fourteenth Street, Bishop found ample subjects for her art in one of the busiest commercial and entertainment districts in all of Manhattan. Like Reginald Marsh, a friend and contemporary with whom she traveled to Europe to study the Old Masters, Bishop captured the character, mood, and movement of human interactions through spontaneous gestural strokes and seemingly effortless draftsmanship.
Noon Hour is among Bishop’s best known and most desirable prints. Created in 1935 with the unfulfilled intention of editioning it in forty impressions, it was finally published a decade later by Associated American Artists (AAA), an organization dedicated to providing original art to collectors of modest financial means, outside the traditional gallery system. Artists were paid a flat fee of $200 to prepare an image on copperplate or lithograph stone, which would be printed by AAA in an edition of 250, then marketed and sold at department stores across the country and through mail order for $5 each. Leading American artists of the day including Peggy Bacon, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Mabel Dwight, Doris Lee, Reginald Marsh, and Grant Wood produced outstanding prints for AAA. Bishop’s image, which she revisited in a 1939 oil painting, features a fashionably dressed pair of women in conversation, perhaps on a lunch break from work or during a respite from shopping. With arms linked and gazes fixed on one another, the couple appears sculpturesque and monumental in spite of their linear treatment and the sheet’s small scale. Other AAA copies of Noon Hour are held in many important collections including the Library of Congress, Philadelphia Museum, San Francisco Museums, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Yale University.