Prolific Illustrator Lived in Town
A World War I Red Cross nurse reaches out from across the room to visitors of the recently completed gallery at the Alameda Museum. The artist who drew her likeness was famous for his drawings of women. His “Fisher Girl” and “American Girl” became the epitome of beauty in America during the early part of the 20th century,” the website AskArt tells us. This artist, Harrison Fisher, spent much of his youth in Alameda with his parents, artist Hugo and Adelaide Fisher, and his brother Hugo.
The senior Hugo was born in the town of Kladno in 1854. Kladno is located 16 miles from Prague in today’s Czech Republic and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time Hugo was born. When Hugo came to the United States in 1874, he Americanized the spelling of the family name, removing the letter “c” from Fischer. He married Adelaide “Addie” Pond. The 1880 census lists the family living in Brooklyn, New York, and lists Hugo and Addie along with their six-year-old Harrison as “Harry” and three-year-old Hugo.
The family lived in New York until 1886, when Hugo and Addie decided to move to California. They settled in Alameda. Contemporary directories list the family living first on Sherman Street between Buena Vista and Eagle avenues. Later, likely after Addie’s death, they lived on Haight near Ninth Avenue. Edan Milton Hughes tell us that the senior Hugo established a studio in San Francisco. While riding the ferry to work he sketched views of the Alameda marshes. Art ran in the family, Hugo took lessons from his father, Hughes writes. He passed his skills to both his sons.
After graduating from high school, the younger Hugo spent two years in Hawaii. About 1900 he went to Europe, where he lived for 16 years. While in Paris, he studied with the likes of artist James MacNeill Whistler, famous for that painting of his mother, and Jean-Paul Laurens, who painted scenes from French history.
Harrison stayed in the Bay Area for a time. He studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco and sold his illustrations free-lance to newspapers like William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Call. The Fashion Model Directory tells us that in 1897, Hearst transferred Harrison to New York “to beef up the New York Journal, which Hearst had just acquired.” Shortly after Harrison arrived in New York, Puck magazine hired him as a cartoonist.
Harrison is best remembered for the way he depicted women.
“Fisher painted women as beauties, as athletes, as teases, as scholars, as brides and as mothers,” writes Jane Alexiadis, an appraiser with Michaan’s Auctions. She tells us that Harrison published the first of his nine books in 1908. The drawings in the books featured idealized women. “He even featured a section about college women playing sports,” Alexiadis writes. “He depicted woman as healthy, intelligent, independent and hardworking.”
Harrison did cover illustrations for Puck, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal and American Magazine. Over an uninterrupted period of 22 years — from 1913 until his untimely death in 1934 — he produced 293 cover illustrations for Cosmopolitan. Alexiadis says that Harrison’s work “was so popular that his images were reproduced on postcards, calendars, candy tins, sheet music, novelty mirrors and tape measures.
In mid-January 1934 Harrison began complaining of stomach pains. On Jan. 18 he underwent an emergency appendectomy. The next day he was dead, he was 57 years old.
He left his estate, valued at the time at $250,000, to his longtime companion, Catherine “Kitty” Clements, one of his favorite models, who worked as his secretary. According to Angelsmyth.com a relative took a few of his paintings, and burned the rest, sending more than 900 Harrison Fisher originals up in smoke.