February/March 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 2
A postcard version of six tender and crucial rites of passage by the artist Harrison Fisher
This series of six postcards, titled “The Greatest Moments in a Girl’s Life,” was painted by Harrison Fisher around 1911. From about 1905 until his death in 1934, Fisher was by far the most popular illustrator of pretty women, the successor to Charles Dana Gibson. Like Norman Rockwell, Howard Chandler Christie, J. C. Leyendecker, and other illustrators of the period, Fisher’s work was found primarily in magazines; he drew most of the covers for Cosmopolitan, for example, from 1912 until his death. Fisher’s work also was featured in books and advertisements (Pond’s soap and Warner’s Featherbone corsets), on calendars, bookmarks, prints, and trinket boxes, and on more than two hundred postcards. Sending postcards during that era was as common as making telephone calls is today.
Fisher was born around 1875 in Brooklyn, New York, the son and grandson of German artists. After studying art in San Francisco and working there as a newspaper artist, he returned to New York and became a staff illustrator for Puck; soon other magazines were clamoring for his services. By 1910 he had become fabulously successful, earning sixty thousand dollars during that year alone. Before long he had developed a lucrative sideline in portraiture; his sketches of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald hang in the Smithsonian.
Considering the enticements available to him—he estimated toward the end of his career that he had immortalized more than fifteen thousand women—Fisher’s love life was apparently tame. He never married, although he left the bulk of his estate to a longtime model, Kate Clements. At his death a substantial collection of his work was valued— as commercial art—at only four thousand dollars. The great bulk, reported the New York Herald Tribune, “had been paid for and published and ‘[is] practically of very little value.’”
But his pretty women, here enjoying their greatest moments, have grown in financial value over the years and are still appealing today. I doubt any contemporary artist could produce an equally engaging series of drawings in which the pinnacles of a 1987 girl’s life included, say, The Harvard M.B.A. or Her First Seven-Figure Deal.