Anton Otto Fischer was born on February 23, 1882 in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. In 1887 at the age of five he became an orphan. He was raised in a Christian charity asylum and although he wanted to be a painter, he was educated for the priesthood. In 1894 at the age of twelve he was sent to a monastery for priest training. He ran away from the monastery and lived with an uncle in Munich. In 1897 at the age of fifteen he left his uncle's home with the warning to never come back. For the next five years he sailed as a deckhand on a Dutch merchant ship, a Norwegian lumber bark, a Swedish steamer, and a German trawler. In 1902 he jumped ship in New York City and applied for U.S. citizenship, after which he sailed as a merchant marine for another three years. He saved his earnings with the intention to eventually afford art school training.
In 1905 he worked in New York City as a studio assistant and model for the celebrated illustrator and cartoonist, A. B. Frost (1851-1928).
In October of 1906 he traveled to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian.
In 1908 he returned to New York City.
In 1909 he studied with Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware. Other artists that studied with Pyle included N. C. Wyeth, Thornton Oakley, Harvey Dunn, Gayle Hoskins, and Henry C. Kiefer.
Howard Pyle was an enlightened teacher with a spiritual vision that great American art was more likely to grow from commercial illustration in the service of American industry, than from imitating European Art. Pyle was raised as a Quaker and adopted the Swedenborgian faith, which emphasized loving acts of charity. He encouraged his students to follow a wholesome family life, to marry and settle down to hard-working careers as professional illustrators.
In 1910 Anton Otto Fischer returned to New York City and opened an art studio at 15 West 29th Street, from which he sold illustrations to The Saturday Evening Post, Metropolitan Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Weekly.
His artist circle included John Sloan (1871-1851), Art Young (1866-1943), and William Balfour Ker (1877-1918), all of whom worked as newspaper cartoonists and illustrators. On March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory infamously burned and killed 146 garment workers, most of whom were ladies between the ages of 16 and 23. In support of the victims he and his socially-conscious friends donated paintings to sell at auction at the Rand College of Social Science, a school for workingmen based on Ruskin's College at Oxford.
William Balfour Ker was married to Mary "May" Ellen Sigsbee Ker. She was also an artist, and they had both been pupils of Howard Pyle when they married in 1899. She was born February 26, 1876, the daughter of Rear Admiral Charles D. Sigsbee, who was in command of the battleship Maine when it blew up in Havana Harbor at the start of the Spanish American War in 1898. Her grandfather was General Henry Hayes Lockwood, a founder of the U.S. Naval Academy. Her family lived at 529 West 112th Street, on Riverside Drive near Columbia University. Their son, David Ker, was born November 9, 1905. On July 28th, 1911 she divorce her husband. Two months later, on October 2, 1912, she married Anton Otto Fischer, who legally adopted and raised her son. They moved to a farm on Bushnellsville Road in Shandaken, NY, from which he continued to sell freelance illustrations to magazines.
In 1914 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and their daughter Katrina Sigsbee Fischer was born.
During the Great War he was thirty-six years old. He did not serve in the military. He painted recruitment posters for the U.S. Coast Guard.
In 1920 he and his family moved to 164 Elmendorf Street in Kingston, NY.
He painted covers for pulp magazines, such as Everybody's Magazine, Munsey's, The Popular, Argosy, Top-Notch, Short Stories, and Sea Stories.
The Great Depression ruined the advertising industry and brought hard times to mainstream magazines, which were forced to cut costs. Many artists were forced to look for alternative sources of income, such as pulp magazines, but the fact that Anton Otto Fisher continued to regularly appear in The Saturday Evening Post throughout the 1930s indicates the extent of his popular appeal.
In 1940 he and his family moved to Woodstock, NY.
During WWII he was commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard as a Lieutenant Commander. He again painted inspiring patriotic recruitment posters, but along with these assignments he also shipped out on convoy duty in the North Atlantic aboard the Coast Guard cutter Campbell. One night while celebrating his sixty-first birthday below deck with crew members, the lookout swept the sea with a searchlight and sighted a German U-Boat at close range. The alarm was sounded and the birthday cake was forgotten as the artist rushed to the ship's bridge to sketch the engagement. According to the ship's officer, "The submarine was rammed and blasted, time and again, by all the guns we could bring to bear. Without time to fire back, the submarine was raked by rapid fire, as well as by our heavier guns, for two brief minutes. Every one of the men on her decks were swept off by our fire while she sank. We hit the jackpot this time, but we were close to being a dead duck ourselves, if there had been another submarine present, we would have been finished."
After the war Anton Otto Fischer wrote his autobiography "Foc'sle Days: A Story of My Youth" published by Scribners in 1947.
During his forty-five years with The Saturday Evening Post he painted a dozen covers, as well as over four hundred story illustrations, the last of which appeared in 1956.
He was widely regarded as America's finest illustrator of adventurous seascapes.
In 1959 he suffered a heart attack, which forced his semi-retirement from painting.
On November 3, 1960 his wife died at the age of eighty-four.
In his later years he followed Yankee baseball and made savvy stock investments that made him a millionaire.
Anton Otto Fischer died in his home in Woodstock, NY, at the age of eighty on March 26, 1962.
© David Saunders 2012