T no time in the history of American illustrative art have there been so many opportunities fo the man of talent, or so great a demand for the work of really competent draughtsmen as at present. The multiplicity of magazines and the increasing use of illustrations in books have opened a field for the young artist that brings rich rewards in fame as well as in more material ways. The illustrator not so many years ago was not taken very seriously, and in many cases there was ample reason for such an attitude, for before the days of modern mechanical methods for reproducing drawings the artist was greatly limited in his scope by the necessity of working in very small compass and by being restricted to black and white.
With the invention of the half-tone and the etching process a way was opened for the greatest freedm in technique, and as soon as it became possible by means of a series of plates to reproduce drawings in color, there was no longer any reason why the artist should not do his work in any medium he preferred. It is this freedom from restraint and the fact that an illustration need be no longer as serious work of art, that have helped so much to give distinction and character to the work of the illustrators of to-day.
Many of the drawings that we see reproduced in black and white are often carefully wroght paintings in color, and after serving their purpose as illustrations we may see them again in the form of color prints either in a collection or as individual examples of the work of some popular artist. The privilege of using color has done more than anything else toward developing the work of the modern illustrator along the broad lines of art, which has led many of them into painting so-called "easl pictures."
The man or worman who draws for illustration and who makes a source of it very soon discovers that it calls for a thorough technical equipment, and that a capacity to draw the figure and draw it well is an essential foundation for any permanent achievement. I once heard a young man who aspired to be an artist ask a famous painter what he thought was the best way to learn to draw. The answer was "Draw."
Harrison Fisher began to draw almost sa soon as he could hold a pencil. With him it was a case of inherited talent, for both his father and grandfather were well-known painters, and the boy looked at everywhere he saw with the eye of a limner. For a time he studiied in the San Francisco Art Association and later taught in his father's school there, but the training he looks back upon as of the greatest benefit to him in his work was that which he got on the local newspapers. He made drawings of accidents, street scenes of all sorts, caricatures, portrait sketches of distinguished men and beautiful women, and the thousand things that help make the modern newspaper a pictorial review of the passing show. There was no time for the careful and deliberate work of the studio. The newspaper artist must know how to draw rapidly and accurately, and possess the faculty of invention and knowledge of how agreeably to arrange his figures. Mr. Fisher's ambition to become an illustrator and to find wider opportunities for doing the kind of work he felt himself qualified for led him in 1898 to New York.
Like so many artists who come to the city for their hopes he began by taking a number of his drawings under his arm and showing them to various art editors and by doing much work of a more or less speculative character. It was not long, however, before he was recognized as a an of more than ordinary talent and as one who could be relied upon to do well any work with which he might be entrusted. This is the crucial point in the career of every young illustrator, the rest is comparataively easy.
Mr. Fisher was one of the young men who helped so much in giving artistic distinction to the first years of the Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia, and in its pages appeared many of his early drawings, including those for Harold Frederic's fine story "The Market Place," which brought him high praise from the author. For a number of years he has been a constant contributor to all of the leading magazines.
It is only within a comparatively recent period that he has developed his particular fancy for drawings dealing especially with well-dressed and well-groomed young American men and women. For years the Gibson girl was the accepted ideal type, and her counterfeit presentiment might be found in the room of nearly every college girl in the land from Maine to California. Mr. Fisher has also drawn the American Girl and with a delightful and sympathetic appreciation of her distinctively national characeristics. A comment frequently heard since Mr. Gibson gave up his work in black and white, and went to Europe to devote himself to the study of painting is that Mr. Fisher is his natural and most popular successor. This is high praise indeed, and indicates plainly enough the generally conceded fact that Mr. Fisher's art is something more than the mere clever drawing of pretty women. He believes in beauty for its own sake; but his types express something besides the charm of a well-modelled face and form. Beauty with him is associated with intelligence and a wide-awake mind that makes the beauty worth while.
M. Saint-Saens, the French composer, after his return from a visit to America, expressed in glowing terms his admiration and high regard for the American woman. He may well have the continued pleasure of looking at them as realized in Mr. Fisher's attractive drawings.
There is a wholesome and very pleasing aspect to the wide popularity of such work, and it shows a healthy public taste that is distinctly native, for Mr. Fisher's young people are refreshingly free from self-consciousness and there is never the least suggestion of the vulgarity and meretriciousness that is so often associated with the familiar drawings in a similar field that come from Europe. The 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 conversation. The Fisher women are noy show-girls, dressmakers' models or millinery exhibits, but the sort we most often associate with a May afternoon walk on upper Fifth Avenue or a day at thhe Country Club. The sentimental and shrinking beauty of some of the old-world painters has no place in this artist's work. He deals with the outdoor girl, she of the golf links, the tennis court, the cross-country run with the hounds.
An artist's technical methods are always interesting, one likes to know something about the way he obtains his particular and individual effects. Mr. Fisher is most versatile in his ways of working. He draws admirably with the pen, works in charcoal, with water color and pastel. Some of his most pleasing drawings are the result of a combination of these. Pastel has always adapted to rapid and true impressions from nature, and gives a richness and brilliancy of effect that are especially suitable for many of his subjects.
There is sound drawing in the artist's work, a graceful, facile use of line, a feeling of delicacy of modelling combined with a sureness and vigor that proves his full command of his technique and give a distinct note of individuality to everything he does. Mr. Fisher draws from the model, and he has been particularly fortunate in securing models that he could use without feeling the necessity of so idealizing them as to rob his work of spontaniety and the fresh note of reality. He is a hard and careful worker, and has to be to keep up with the many demands upon his time; but he is fortunate in having the frame and physique of an athlete and an unfailing enthusiasm of enjoyment in vigorous exercise in the open.
Among the men who have had a strong influence upon contempory illustration, Mr. Gibson admires especially Howard Pyle, C. D. Gibson, E. A. Abbey, A. B. Wenzell in America, and Marold Reinicke, Steinlen, Forain, Marchetti among Europeans.
The examples of the artist's reproduced work in this volume cover a wide range of subject. Groups of anecdotal pictures, little episodes of comedy and sentiment, composed with a full appreciation of their contemporary appositeness; single figures and heads in both color and black and white, drawn with all the grace and charm and feeling for beauty for which he is famous, make up a very notable and welcome collection. .......... James B. Carrington.
The Harrison Beauty Contests seem to be one of the phases of present-day civilization. In Key West and Ogdensburg, in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, are not votes cast for the "most beautiful girl" of the place, and are not these records then compared and tabulated with incredible seriousness, so that we may know to a certainty who is the superlatively beautiful woman of the United States? They may not have so ordered things in classic Greece, but Asbury Park baby shows and "Fluffy-Ruffles" newspaper contests attest that America of the twentieth century is trying to duly appraise the charm of face and figure of the all-conquering American girl. Heretofore, however, we may have been somewhat handicapped by the lack of a true standard by which to measure competing claimants; but now, thanks to the foresight of Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons, we are provided with an infallible criterion. During the past ten years there have appeared from time to time in magazines and novels, various presentments of the ideal American girl as she is and always should be, well dressed and well groomed, at all times mistress of herself as well as the situation; graceful, alert, healthy-minded, intensely alive and thoroughly happy. Surely the genus Puella Americana has abundant reasons for gratitude to Mr. Harrison Fisher, who has so often caught her at her best. Bred and early trained in San Francisco, as Mr. James B. Carrington tells us in an introduction on "Mr. Harrison Fisher's Place in American Illustration," this artist learned how to draw in the hustling Art School of Experience. Later he came to New York, his sketches under his arm, and presented himself to various art editors, who soon recognized his unusual talents and original power. It is a pleasure to welcome this year a well. chosen selection of his best work in this handsome quarto volume, its cover decorated with a typical "Harrison Fisher girl" sipping a cup of tea. It contains about ninety full-page or half-page pictures printed on heavy glazed paper, some in colors, others in black and white, each showing consummate skill in the art of reproduction. No more fitting present for the loveliest woman you know can be imagined than this assemblage of America's loveliest women. From "The Harrison Fisher Book." Copyright, 1907, by Charles Scribner's Sons.