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.”
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, taking 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.
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.