At one time, Harrison Fisher’s ‘The Fisher Girl’ was as well known as ‘The Gibson Girl.’ Likewise, his ‘American Girl’, was recognized as the epitome of feminine beauty during the first quarter of the twentieth century. She was lithe and elegant, but also athletic, independent, and intelligent, and she eclipsed ‘The Gibson Girl.’

Harrison Fisher was born in Brooklyn, the son of Hugo Antoine Fischer (sic), and the grandson of Felix Xiver Fisher, both artist immigrants from Bohemia. In 1886, the family left New York and moved to Alameda, California near San Francisco, and two years later Harrison’s mother died. In 1893, Antoine Fisher’s art was shown at the World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago, and he felt comfortable enough to open a studio on Battery Street in San Francisco. Antoine Fisher had already started to teach his two sons to sketch and paint as soon as they arrived in California.


He took them on camping trips up and down the Pacific coastline so that they could sketch the magnificent scenery. Harrison had shown promise quite early having excelled at drawing from the age of six. Coupled with his father’s training and natural talent, he enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, and as a teenager sold illustrations to local newspapers. The popular national magazine Judge was soon publishing Harrison’s works, and he needed a separate studio in which to concentrate. Fisher made his place in the history of American illustration due to his uncanny ability to paint beautiful women.


Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1920’s called Harrison Fisher, “The World’s Greatest Artist” saying that “There is an underlying ideal that dominates his paintings. His ideal type has come to be regarded as the type of American beauty: girls, young with the youth of a new country, strong with the vitality of buoyant good health, fresh with clear-eyed brightness, athletic, cheerful, sympathetic, and beautiful.” They went on to say, “’The American Girl’ is practical, adventuresome, active, and above all, attractive. No one can portray more of this attractiveness than Harrison Fisher.”


Those early commissions brought him to the attention of the San Francisco Call, and he was hired as a staff artist drawing society functions, sporting meets, and illustrating news items. After a couple of years he joined the San Francisco Examiner, the largest newspaper in William Randolph Hearst’s stable, and sketched news events.

In 1897, Fisher was given a requested transfer to Hearst’s New York American. Barely two weeks later he landed a job as in-house cartoonist and illustrator with the fabulously famous, Puck magazine. His career was careening ahead with recognition from anyone who came into contact with his work.

By 1900, Fisher was doing freelance assignments for the Saturday Evening Post and received more commissions from other respected journals including McClure’s Magazine, Life, Scribner's, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan. Hearst tried devilishly to keep him busy to deter others from commissioning this now famous illustrator. Hearst’s newly renamed magazine, The American Weekly, gave him more assignments than any normal illustrator could possibly complete, yet he was able to continue to accept freelance work in advertising from Armour’s Beef, Warren Featherbone Co., Pond’s Soap, but the Saturday Evening Post kept him busiest with more work.
In spite of the disparate array of clients and illustrations of all kinds, his greatest successes continued to be vibrant drawings of beautiful American girls, which he immodestly dubbed as a group, The Fisher Girl(s).

They became sought after and rivaled all other illustrators’ idealizations of the American female. His commissions at the turn of the century were $75,000 in a single year, an amount equivalent to $1,500,000 in the year 2004.

In March, 1908, Success magazine published a milestone piece by Fisher illustrating an article by Oliver Opp entitled, ‘The American Girl.’ It was that article which engendered the pandemonium and demands for more of Harrison Fisher’s beautiful girls. The article appeared at a time when the average wage for a woman was $5 per week, while the girls portrayed by Fisher were girls living lives of luxury at mansions in Newport, playing tennis or traveling with “our motoring millionaires” between country clubs. The article states quite boldly, that “since Charles Dana Gibson has given up his pen and ink work for oil paintings, Mr. Fisher has become his natural and popular successor.”

In 1905, Gibson had retired and the stage was set for Fisher. Gibson was never again to recreate the fervor for his Gibson Girl’ for The American Girl was everywhere and she was portrayed in color. A “well-bred and healthy minded American girl is delightfully free from pose: mistress of herself she looks out upon the world with a frankness and an assurance born of the realization that she is an accepted ornament of society and quite sure of respectful consideration.”

In June 1910, an article published in Cosmopolitan entitled, ‘The Father of a Thousand Girls’, adorned Harrison Fisher with that nickname forever more.


That same year, the ‘Fisher Girl’ outdistanced all competitors in popularity. In 1913, Holland magazine mentioned that Fisher was making more than seventy-five thousand dollars a year and his success continued with illustrations published in literally dozens of books, and articles on the artist appeared in Vogue and periodicals everywhere.

His ‘Fisher College Girls’ appeared in both The Ladies’ Home Journal and Scribner’s Magazine at the same time with neither complaining. Between 1907-1914, the Fisher American Belles was published in the form of more than a dozen different variations as art books. By 1920, the efforts of Fisher’s earlier competitors Gibson, Christy, Hutt, and Boileau had all been but forgotten.

The artwork of Harrison Fisher appeared on over eighty covers of the Saturday Evening Post. From 1913 until his death in 1934, Fisher created almost every cover for Cosmopolitan magazine. In his later years Harrison Fisher restricted himself to doing portraits of famous personalities and performers as well as society’s grand dames and gentlemen.

In 1927, he illustrated portraits of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, perhaps the crowning achievement in defining the era which was at least partially initiated by Harrison Fisher with his art images and by F. Scott Fitzgerald with his words.

When he died in 1934, George M. Cohan delivered Fisher’s eulogy. Harrison Fisher’s estate was valued at $297,061, excluding real estate in Westport, Connecticut and California. The paintings were valued very low as it was explained that illustrations had already been paid for and were published and therefore “are practically of very little value”. Fisher himself believed that they had little resale value. Some one hundred and thirteen pictures were appraised at $565 and fifty-three pen and ink drawings were valued at $159.

After his death, a relative kept a few paintings and burned over nine hundred of his remaining artworks, at his request.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration




Harrison Fisher was born on July 27, 1877, in Brooklyn, New York. He was a third generation artist; his grandfather Felix Xiver Fisher (from Austria), and father, Hugo Antone Fisher, were both artists. In the 1860's his grandparents immigrated from Austria to New York under the name of Fischer. His father, a landscape artist, married Addie Marish Pond and they had two sons, Harrison Fisher being the second born. In 1886, Hugo and Addie moved their family from New York to Alameda, California. Two years later, on March 1, 1889, their mother died, at the young age of 35, from Peritonitis, an abdominal disorder. The family home was closed and Hugo took his sons on a sketching trip along the Pacific coast. Hugo continued to instruct his sons in drawing and painting and was the chief influence in the early development of their artistic talent. Fisher and his brother continued their art instruction at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. Today this institute is known as the San Francisco Art Institute.

Amedee Joullin, noted for his paintings of the Aztec Indians, was especially influential on Harrisons work. In 1894, an image he created of an Indian maid titled "Laughing Water", and shortly after, this work was on a deck of cards issued by the United States Playing Card Company.

In 1895, at the age of 17, Fisher began working for the Morning Call, later renamed the The San Francisco Call. Within a year, he quickly caught the attention of William Randolph Hearst, a major newspaper and magazine publisher. He began his employment under Mr. Randolph in New York with the New York Journal. His ultimate goal in life was to become an illustrator, and the influences and opportunities of New York were far too great for him to stay too long with the Journal. It was during this time that Fisher accepted a position with Puck Magazine. His employment with Puck lasted two years, but he also did free lance work for other magazine publishers. The Saturday Evening Post in 1898, Art Exchange in 1899, Woman's Home Companion in 1901, Life in 1902, The Burr McIntosh and The Ladies Home Journal in 1904, The Home Magazine in 1906, Collier's and Cosmopolitan in 1907, and Pictorial Review in 1908. In 1905, Mr. Hurst added to his magazine business the acquisition of Cosmopolitan magazine. It must be noted that Fisher's work was featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan every month for a period of 22 years straight. A total of 293 Cosmopolitan covers featured his work. Nearly 100 years later, Hurst publications still follows the theme created by Fisher of the beautiful "Cosmo Girl", and is the largest selling women's magazine published in the world. While Fisher is famous for his magazine covers, these have by no means been his only work. He was widely pursued by the book publishing industry and offered unheard of prices for his drawings. Publishers also reprinted hundreds of his drawings as art reprints for framing. These reprints appeared on postcards, novel illustrations, posters, sheet music, programs, calendars, bridge tally cards, candy boxes, tins, plates, bowls, vases, pocket mirrors, tape measures, and many other items. In addition he also found time to establish a portrait painting business. Many prominent stage, film, musical, and literary stars were painted.

He published a number of different volumes such as A Dream of Fair Women, Harrison Fisher's American Beauties, and A Garden of Girls. He also illustrated numerous novels and epic poems, the most ambitious of which is Hiawatha, filled not with pretty girls but with Noble Savages.

His illustrations were used on many postcards which are highly collectible. Perhaps the most famous is a series of 6 cards, frequently framed in a set, titled The Six Great Moments in a Girl's Life. Individual prints intended for framing were issued. And there are hundreds of magazines with his covers or interior illustrations.

Fisher continued producing magazine covers but gradually grew tired of painting one pretty face after another. He expressed a desire to paint children and old women. He remained active until about 1915, gradually losing his pre-eminent role to other illustrators such as Christy. Eventually, Fisher went into semi-retirement in California, continuing to do only Cosmopolitan covers. He painted almost every Cosmo cover between 1913 and 1934.

His career concluded in 1934, when at the age of 56. Harrison Fisher died unexpectedly on Friday, January 19, 1934,
(1) in Doctor's Hospital, Manhattan, New York, following an emergency apendectomy.
(2)* The bulk of his estate ($268,805) was left to his secretary, Kate Clements, a friend and legal advisor.
(3)
-- (1) Shown on death certificate
-- (2) Newspaper Article
-- (3) Newspaper Article and Last Will and Testament

In the years that followed the art world deepened its appreciation of Fisher's place in the history of American illustration.

On June 26, 1997, the Society of Illustrators, New York, inducted Harrison Fisher into the Illustrators Hall of Fame for his distinguished achievements as an illustrator of great talent.

When he died in 1934, a family member who inherited his work, at the artists request, kept the paintings she wanted and burned the rest including 800 of Harrisons originals.

*
Kate Clements became a model for Fisher, and later his private secretary. Kitty was born in New York City, April 4, 1887; 10 years Fisher's junior. They traveled extensively together. Harrison Fisher was a very private person and whether their relationship was personal, as well as professional, was never discussed. Kitty was 46 when Fisher died; still living with her two sisters, Ora and Marjorie. Following Fisher's death, the three sisters moved to Manhattan and lived nineteen years; all three remained unmarried. Kitty died at the age of 65 from heart disease, and her sisters moved to Palm Springs, California. Photographs of Kitty Clements are virtually nonexistent.

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