Harrison Fisher Antique Prints
Harrison Fisher was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 27, 1875. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all artists. Harrison Fisher began to draw almost as soon as he could hold a pencil. Fisher was a talented illustrator; his work began appearing in newspapers when he was only sixteen when the San Francisco Call newspaper began buying his sketches. During the 1890s, Harrison studied at the San Francisco Art Association and the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. Like so many artists who come to the city of their hopes, Harrison Fisher began by taking a number of his drawings under his arm and showing them to various art editors. Soon he became a staff artist for the San Francisco Call, and later for the San Francisco Examiner, one of the largest newspapers in a chain owned by William Randolph Hearst.
The multiplicity of magazines and the increasing use of illustrations in books in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries opened a field for the young artist that brought rich rewards in fame as well as in more material ways. With the invention of the half-tone and the line etching process a way was opened for the greatest freedom 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 could not do his work in any medium he preferred.
Fisher made drawings of accidents, street scenes of all sorts, caricatures, portrait sketches of distinguished men and beautiful women, and the thousand things that helped make the late 1890s newspaper a pictorial review of the passing days. Harrison Fisher was one of the young men of the day who helped 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 story, The Market Place, which brought him fame. For a number of years he was a constant contributor to all of the leading magazines. In 1897, Fisher transferred to New York City, and within weeks became a staff artist for Puck Magazine.
In the early 1900s, Harrison Fisher developed a 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 personage might be found in the room of nearly every college girl from Maine to California. Fisher made a name for himself in the history of American illustration due to his talent in painting these beautiful women. His "Fisher Girl" and, more specifically, his "American Girl", became the epitome of beauty in America during the first quarter of the 20th century.
Fisher’s well-bred and healthy-minded American Girl was delightfully free from pose; mistress of herself as she looked out upon the world with an assurance born of the realization that she was an accepted ornament of society. The Fisher young women were not show girls, dressmakers, models, or millinery exhibits, but the sort often associated with a May afternoon walk on upper Fifth Avenue or a day at the Country Club. She was feminine and beautiful but also independent and strong.
Antique Harrison Fisher prints are sought after by collectors and interior designers. Reproductions of Fisher’s “American Girl” are readily available and make a charming and affordable addition to any room décor. Many of Fisher’s designs are also featured in stationery and greeting cards today.
A conversation with the great American illustrator and
noted magazine cover artist.
Harrison Fisher said, "It has been, since 1900, my job to find beauty, catch it on a canvas and serve it up to an insatiable magazine public. . . I first looked for it in the faces of murderers and cutthroats, when, as a boy of seventeen, I drew sketches in the courtrooms of San Francisco for a local newspaper. And because sometimes, surprisingly, I found it, I was content with the seventeen dollars in my weekly envelope."
"My father, Hugo Anton Fisher, was an established painter of landscapes in California, and his father, too, had been a painter. My brother Melville took to landscapes and I to portraits."
Harrison Fisher said, "My father, Hugo Anton Fisher, was an established painter of landscapes in California, and his father, too, had been a painter. My brother Melville took to landscapes and I to portraits."
"In 1897, when I was just twenty, I came to New York to try my hand at the magazine game. The artist's New York of those days was very different from the New York of today. The field then was extremely restricted. There were no girl covers, and most of the magazines used illustrations very sparingly, if at all."
Harrison Fisher said, "One of the kindest editors I met in those days was William Curtis Gibson, art editor of Puck, who is now art editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. He bought my sketches when he could, and told me how to better them. Then I had a lucky break. A feature writer I knew suggested my name to S. S. McClure, editor and founder of McClure's magazine, and I was given my first commission. A magnificent one it was, too — to travel over Europe with the feature writer, illustrating his travel sketches as we went. I walked on air. This meant that my fame and fortune were made. I wrote to my happy father to tell him that I had arrived."
"I hadn't. We took a splendid trip with expenses paid, and I brought back a portfolio of pictures I considered masterpieces. But for some reason the magazine rejected the feature writer's copy, and my beloved sketches went into the discard too. Perhaps they still lie in some old dusty file of McClure's, hidden from the light. Possibly it is just as well, for I have learned a lot about sketching since then. However, the fact that I had been given such an assignment gave me some prestige. I got more orders, and was able to afford other journeys abroad."
Harrison Fisher said, "It was in 1904, when I had begun to do a good deal of magazine work and my checks were larger, that I found the bald-headed girl who shaped my destiny in the magazines. She was a peasant in the south of France who had just recovered from a siege of typhoid fever which cost her all her hair. To hide her distressingly naked scalp, her mother had tied a wide ribbon band around her head and finished it off with a towering bow in front."
"The effect was piquant. I sketched it, combined it with the face of an American girl and sent the picture to the Saturday Evening Post. To the best of my knowledge, that was the first large head of a girl ever used as sole decoration on a magazine cover. When I came home later, the front-bow hair ribbon was the prevailing style of head-dress all over the country."
Harrison Fisher said, "That was one of the few times that I had a chance to create a hair style to suit myself. I liked to draw that front bow, and for months I drew it to my heart's content."
"We artists are often asked, “Do you actually create modes in hair-dressing, or do you merely popularize them?" I should say the latter is nearer the truth. Our minds are close to Paris, where styles originate, and when we find a new, becoming mode of hair-dressing we paint it. Since our pictures hang on all the newsstands of the country, I suppose hundreds of thousands of women are influenced by them. Many of the styles of hair-dressing I have painted, however, I have not considered universally becoming."
"During the period dating from the pompadour to the shingle bob, I have become something of a coiffure authority. There has never been a style I liked better than the bob. The first coiffure I ever drew was one of those Spanish-American-War pompadours, built up like a stone wall over a wire frame or a wad of cotton. It made the face seem small and insignificant, and was most unsatisfactory from a painter's standpoint."
Harrison Fisher said, "After that came a time of huge ear-rolls, and artificial puffs placed on top of the head. Then there were the bangs and the psyche knot."
"During the Floradora period, when the girls wore one long curl over their left shoulder, my studio used to be littered with these single curls, in auburn, black, brown and gold. A model chose her curl as soon as she arrived for a sitting. I used to love to draw those curls — they broke up the neckline so well. In 1915 came the "figure eight" and lightly curled front hair. And in 1920 the fan-shaped head-dress, built up either over a "rat" or by "roughing" the hair, recalled the hard artificiality of the pompadour. We artists gnashed on teeth!"
Harrison Fisher explained, "But relief was in sight. Along about 1921 the bob struck America full force. I suppose all of us older folk got a shod when we saw the shining braids and curb coming off in handfuls. And a good many of us set up a row about the morality of bobbed hair and so forth and so on."
"But it wasn't very long before we artists began to see beauty in the new style. It was simple, healthful and youthful. Above all, it was modern. It suited the faces and clothes and the philosophy of modern youth."
"I think I like the sleek, well-modeled shingle better than any other coiffure have painted. But I have not found magazine editors so enthusiastic about it. The bald-headed woman, as I have remarked ruled, gave me my start. After the sale of her picture, I began to get plenty of cover orders. I freelanced for several years."
Harrison Fisher said, "Then I had a stroke of fortune that influenced my entire career. Bill Gibson had gone over from Puck to Cosmopolitan magazine. He still liked my work, and in 1907 I began to sell to him again. The readers liked my covers, and in 1910 I made an exclusive contract to paint for Cosmopolitan. As the magazine has grown in quality and strength, under the editorship of Ray Long, my girls have appeared regularly each month on its covers, and people have almost abandoned the old phrase, “Harrison Fisher girl,” for “Cosmopolitan girl.”
"She had not been easy to capture, this lovely creature with the wistful, girlish eyes, whose face, always new, yet never quite the same, stands for me and for Cosmopolitan. The whole world is an artist’s stock in trade, and I am pursued by the fear that I may pass my Cosmopolitan girl in the park or brush against her in the subway and fail to catch the line, the shade of coloring that would enrich my next picture of her. I have to carry her beauty back to the studio with me in my mind’s eye, for I never have the courage to ask a stranger to pose for me."
Harrison Fisher said, "My search led from New York to Europe and back again. For American girls — and this is not intended for the grandstand — are the most beautiful and best-dressed in the world. After a lifelong quest for lovely women, I have come back home to stay."
"I could not find in Europe a single model that my fastidious American public would accept for its magazine covers. And so I came back to New York, and in the little model colony of Central Park West I found the type of the clear-eyed, fresh-skinned creature I have been doing ever since for Cosmopolitan."
"The Cosmopolitan girl is a composite picture, of course, drawn from an embarrassment of riches. Unless a girl has character, talent and a real liking for work I do not encourage her to enter the model field, no matter how pretty her face and figure may be. Merely pretty girls are a drug on the market in New York. Then, too, the life of the model is no paradise for leisure and luxury."
Harrison Fisher explained, "The good model makes from fifty to sixty dollars a week. Once her reputation among the artists is established, she can count on a full week’s work. The standard price is five dollars for a three-hour morning or afternoon — that is, ten dollars a day. But she earns that ten dollars. Posing calls for more than beauty. It requires grace and flexibility and, in the fiction illustration field, a real histrionic talent. A girl need not know how to dance, but she must have the strength and endurance to hold a difficult dance pose for half an hour without letting the strain show in face or body. There is no hilarious night life for the girl who guards her beauty. At the end of the day the model rushes off to her little kitchenette around the corner to cook her own dinner, wash and press her silk lingerie and feed her Persian cat or canary bird."
"After nearly thirty years of searching for beauty, I suppose I ought to know what beauty is. Nevertheless, it is impossible to define it in words. To get my idea of beauty, suppose you watch me choose a model."
Harrison Fisher said, "It is five o'clock of a Tuesday afternoon, the hour at which the magazine artists receive prospective models. The girls come up one by one, announced by a telephone operator downstairs. The first girl steps inside the door and instinctively makes for the wide shaft of light from the great north window. She has a round, pink face and a plump figure. Her features are rather good, and her coloring is fresh. But her face has no charm. It is flat, wooden. And so I send her away.
"The second one is a blonde, and her manner is as brazen as her coloring. I look at her closely. She has a pretty face, shining hair. But the bold, forward thrust of her head lacks the elegance and poise that my cover girls must have. I want girls to be chic; but they must reflect innate refinement. She will not do."
"The third girl wears a jersey jumper. She has good features and a brown, freckled skin. She explains that she is quite a sportswoman, swims, plays golf, rides. She thinks she might do in an illustration for some outdoor story. But there's the difficulty! She looks like a sportswoman. Her muscles are highly developed and quite visible. She wears flat-heeled shoes that have thickened her ankles and given her bulging calves. Her stride is entirely too strong and independent for a magazine girl. Even for outdoor fiction, the magazine public will have its women soft. So I turn my thumbs down on her."
Harrison Fisher explained, "The fourth applicant has good eyes, a good mouth and a graceful carriage. But her neck is short and fat, and some one has persuaded her to bob her hair. The combination is fatal. I like bobbed hair only for slim, girlish models."
"Number five has a weak chin and a crooked nose. Number six has every advantage of beauty, but she cannot hold any given pose for thirty seconds."
"The seventh has a long, thin neck with a perpendicular hollow running down it in back. Her shingle leaves it naked to the storms of heaven. And so it goes."
"Number eight comes along. She has eyes a bit too pale in color, hair that might be finer in texture, a chin line that needs strengthening. But the authentic flame is there. This girl is beautiful — perhaps not in the flesh, but in the final canvas I can visualize. I employ her as a model."
Harrison Fisher stated, "I suppose she goes down to the lobby with a radiant face. Doubtless the rejected girls will mutter, 'She is no more beautiful than we.' I don't blame them for their discontent. Possibly in analysis, this woman is less beautiful than they. Another man might find her not beautiful at all. The personal equation makes the difference. Beauty is as much in the seer as in the seen. The foremost cover artists of New York swap models constantly, but the public never recognizes similarity in their pictures."
Harrison Fisher concluded, "But when I speak of the personal equation, I mean only the artistic differences between men. There is generally no personal relationship between artist and model. It is simply a cold business proposition. The cover girl must be feminine, of course. She must stand for youth and purity and first love — a reminder of every man reader's first sweetheart and of every woman's self as she used to be."