It is not so much that Harrison Fisher has created a distinctive series of Americangirl types, as that these types have created Harrison Fisher, for without the proper models for his inspiration there would be neither the present fame of the artist nor the greater fame of the Fisher girl. In giving to an admiring world his interpretation of a beautiful fact Harrison Fisher has glorified the American girl and been glorified by her.
Harrison Fisher at thirty-five is a comfortably stout personality with a gift for laughter, a sense of the pleasant side of life, a love for the beautiful, and a luxurious automobile all his own. He has a chauffeur to drive the automobile, but he is not at all dependent upon him; this very modern artist has been known to crank his own machine and put on a tire without the aid of a mechanician, a feat remarkable only when achieved by an esthete. He seems to have been self-helpful since the days when he was a newspaper artist in San Francisco.
His father, Hugo Fisher, was noted as a painter of landscapes, back in the eighties, so the son comes by his talent quite naturally. After being successfully born in Brooklyn, which he doesn't deny, Harrison was lugged out to the Coast by his parents and drifted into newspaper work. "Drifted" is a good word, but "pushed" is probably more accurate. Then he came back to the town which Hopkinson Smith says is the most insolent community on the globe. But New York wasn't the least bit insolent to Harrison Fisher; it held out a nice warm hand to him, and he hung on to it until it began to glitter with gold, and this gold he pocketed. His income is now in the neighborhood of sixty thousand dollars a year, but you would never suspect it in talking with him. He has no conception of vanity; he is almost ingenuous with that big, blond ingenuousness of the man who does things.
It has been the good fortune of the CosmoPolitan Magazine to reproduce some of the choicest products of the Fisher genius. As a matter of interest it may be said with becoming modesty that a member of the CosmoPolitan staff "discovered" Harrison Fisher. That was back in the dark ages of American illustration, and it is to be passed over as hurriedly as is consistent with dignity and a proper regard for the age-limit of editors. But in scuttling away from the fact let it be noted that Mr. Fisher received some twenty dollars apiece for his drawings in those misty days of yore, while now his price -- according to the difficulties and intricacies of the composition -- runs from three to five hundred dollars a drawing. If one measured the pictorial output of Harrison Fisher in terms of currency alone he would still top the list of the successful. But the money value of his work is a consideration which he puts aside when in the throes of production. Like an elder fellow craftsman of note who has gone into print about himself, he is oblivious of the market-value of his work, wrenching from each picture what joy of growth it can be made to yield him until it is pronounced finished, when it instantly becomes a commodity for which he extracts from the purchaser's purse the ultimate dollar of its commercial worth. And who can question the propriety of the method?
It is a mean thing to reveal about Mr. Fisher, because several thousand art-loving young damsels are going to make his life a burden when they hear of it, but it is true none the less that he is a bachelor. He has been too busy to marry, too busy drawing ravishingly beautiful young women to select one all his own. But don't forget that he is still a young man, and in these days a man doesn't indulge in matrimony until he has achieved forty and a fat bank-balance.
But whatever the future holds for Harrison Fisher he will always be known as the real depictor of the healthy, well-poised, cleareyed girl of the period, the American girl who is neither snob nor sloven, who may or may not be in or of society, who wins by the sheer charm of her personality, who is genuine, gracious, tender when need be, buoyant when occasion calls, and feminine always. To have realized a type in all its moods is to have accomplished the work of the true art-historian, and as the historian of the American girl Harrison Fisher has neither peer nor superior. The American girl types he has created are legion and rank Mr. Fisher as perhaps America's chief portrayer of beautiful women. The oval drawing, a typical Fisher girl, was specially made for the Cosmopolitan.
The Cosmopolitan, Volume 49, Schlicht & Field, 1910
The Work of Harrison Fisher
There is no more enviable position in the world of art to-day than that of the successful illustrator, and yet but few of his kind will acknowledge the fact. Every illustrator wants to be a painter.
To be courted by publishers, to have one's name upon the lips of a nation, to be pointed out in public places as a familiar figure -- for these things men have foregone all the pleasures of existence, have led hermit lives, have denied themselves love and friends and family; the road to contemporary renown is strewn with the bleached bones of those who have striven and failed. But fame and ducats make the common lot of the clever illustrator. The magazines and "best sellers" have made it possible for the illustrative artist to live in his own house, to have his "gentleman's gentleman," and to turn down what line of work may not meet his full favor. The noted illustrator is king-pin in the art-alley, and his income measures up with that of bank-presidents, senators, promoters, and the ever-opulent plumber.
At the top of the heap stands Harrison Fisher -- creator of the Fisher girl and most popular of all Americans who ply brush and pencil for reproduction.
By reason of his industry and because of the uniform soundness of his drawing and color-sense he is the acknowledged master of the pretty-girl picture. In the midst of his increasing prestige he has remained cool of head and unperturbed by flattery and a flood of checks. With the ever-pressing temptation to loaf and invite his soul he has kept himself manacled to his easel. He works like a unit of the chain-gang; he toils and moils at his stint of drawing while lesser men frivol away the splendid hours and their rich opportunities. He is the very pattern of industry, the living exemplar of a Ben Franklin maxim, a copybook precept in trousers. He loves work as a mandrill loves peanuts.
Of course your average illustrator yearns with a terrible yearning to "create " an American-girl type of his very, very own, and of course he or she (it is more often a she than a he) doesn't get any nearer creation than a watery copying of the big men -- Gibson, Christy, Flagg, and Fisher. And there's a reason -- if anything a tyro does can be called reasonable; the reason lies in the beginner's utter want of individuality. This vacuum, coupled with poor eyesight -- the kind that sees but doesn't understand or analyze -- and a cut-and-dried method of drawing, make for a product that is both unpleasant and unmarketable. All kinds of people see all kinds of things in all kinds of ways; a yellow dog or a sunset do not look the same to any two persons, especially if the persons be artists. It is the draftsman who makes a beautiful woman look beautiful to a majority of persons who wins applause and money. Harrison Fisher possesses the knack, and for knack you may read knowledge.
Like all worth-while art the drawings of Fisher are the essence of simplicity. The Venus de Milo is simple; Whistler's portrait of his mother is a simple scheme of form and color; Rembrandt and Hals and Velasquez got their effects with astounding simplicity of style. From the masters Fisher has taken his cue and pinned to paper lastingly the beauties of our day and generation with a maximum effect and a minimum expenditure of visible effort. But back of the simple result is the soul-torturing struggle, the nice discrimination, the strength of will to leave out non-essentials. The art of elimination is the highest art; what to leave out is of as great importance as what to put in. When Harrison Fisher finds himself teasing a drawing into the semblance of a photograph he destroys the drawing. He knows by instinct, if not by psychological analysis, that an overwrought picture is worse than no picture at all. And it takes nerve to throw away the labor of an entire day and begin all over again. If a census were taken among the best artists with a view to establishing the number of destroyed drawings and paintings in comparison with those given to the world over signature it would be found that the latter fall more than half below the number of the former. That is why the best artists are the best.
It has been estimated that Mr. Fisher has turned out of hand more than a thousand studies of the American girl, and it is safe to say that at least half that number were drawn twice over before they were satisfactory to their maker. There never was an artist with a keener conscience than this man Fisher; he pleases his patrons easily, but he finds it difficult to please himself. He is an inexorable self-critic, and there you have the secret of his vogue in a word.