A lengthy newspaper article from 1939 features Isabel Cohen [Doud] and outlines how she regularly managed to scandalize her fellow residents of Charleston, South Carolina. For one thing, she painted nudes—her favorite subject. She also bobbed her hair, smoked cigarettes, and may have been the first woman to walk down Broad Street without a male escort. 

Cohen was a native of Charleston, which remained her base throughout her career despite studies elsewhere and extensive travel. She graduated from the College of Charleston in 1885, and her senior essay was entitled Circumstances. She took lessons from Lucie-Louise Féry, an academically trained artist from France, who also taught Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. According to the article, Cohen “was not interested in drawing sketches and little landscapes and vignettes.” As an alternative, she sought out Elliott Daingerfield at his studio in Blowing Rock, North Carolina; he was known for depicting nudes, often in landscapes. Perhaps with his encouragement, she continued her studies at the Art Students League in New York, with Henry S. Rittenberg, a portraitist.

In Rome prior to World War I, Cohen pursued studies with Joseph Noel for two years. Beginning in 1919 she was a member of the Charleston Sketch Club, initiated seven years earlier by Emma Gilchrist. Most of the members of the club were women, and they met at the Gibbes Art Gallery, which served as the home of the Carolina Art Association. The participants gave each other moral support and suggestions; they sometimes had models, who were, of course, clothed. From 1920 to 1924 Alfred Hutty served as director of the Association’s school where he taught drawing and painting of portraits, landscapes, and still life. Cohen was also a member of the Southern States Art League, whose mission was to champion southern art across the region. Alice Smith, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, and Ellsworth Woodward were very involved in the organization. In 1929 Cohen was listed along with May Paine in the membership directory of the Associated Artists of Charleston. Despite the fact that she decried landscapes, she painted several, as well as some cityscapes. 

Cohen was an active member of the Carolina Art Association, and she assisted in an exhibition of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s sculpture. Delighted that Huntington’s 1922 bronze Diana, a nude figure of the goddess of the hunt, was placed on view in the front of the gallery, she helped plan another exhibition and went to New York to select examples. She recounted: “We put our heads together and decided to send down a nude. It was a very modest little one. … When the exhibition opened in the main gallery we went in and looked around with great interest. … We finally found it, hanging on the door of the main gallery. It was very cleverly placed, for when the door was open, it couldn’t be seen at all.”

Perhaps at Hutty’s suggestion, she spent time in Woodstock, New York, where members of the art colony were more accepting of nude models. Cohen also painted portraits there, in New York, and in Charleston, but did not do so for income. She explained her good fortune: “Fortunately for my tastes, I have never had to make a living out of painting, so I have not had to paint things with an eye to selling them. Most of all I like to paint people. The human part fascinates me more than landscapes or still lifes.”

When in her early sixties, Cohen married fellow painter Gorda Doud in Rome. They kept studios there, as well as in New York and Charleston. Upon her death she gave six paintings to the College of Charleston along with funding to expand the library annex. Her tombstone in Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Cemetery simply identifies her as “artist.”