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Harriet W. Frishmuth
Harriet W. Frishmuth (American 1880-1980)
Laughing Waters, 1929
Bronze, green and light brown patina
16 x 4 3/8 x 6 5/8 inches
Harriet W. Frishmuth is celebrated for her decorative bronzes and garden sculpture of supple, athletic young women who embody the feeling of youthful vigor and joy. She was born into an upper-middle-class Philadelphian family in 1880. At an early age, Frishmuth moved to Europe and remained there for many years with her mother and two older sisters, where she became a proficient piano player and contemplated a career in music. It was not until she met an American woman sculptor in Switzerland that Frishmuth made her first attempts at modeling. At age nineteen, Frishmuth enrolled in a modeling class in Paris where Auguste Rodin visited biweekly and singled out Frishmuth’s work on occasion. Encouraged by her progress, Frishmuth transferred six months later to the Académie Colarossi in order to receive more regular study.
Frishmuth made her first debut in 1903 at the Salon with a portrait bust of a woman. Soon afterwards, she moved to Germany for two years and then returned to the United States where she settled in New York and took classes at the Art Students League under sculptors such as Gutzon Borglum and Herman Atkins MacNeil. Finally, in 1908 Frishmuth set up her own studio in New York and in 1910 received her first commission: a portrait relief of Dr. Abraham Jacobi for the New York County Medical Society. The first major showing of Frishmuth’s work occurred in 1912 at Gorham Galleries on Fifth Avenue in New York City in a group exhibition with numerous other outstanding women sculptors such as Anna V. Hyatt, Gertrude V. Whitney, Carol Brooks MacNeil and Enid Yandell.
Frishmuth soon turned her attention to the female figure and to garden sculpture. One of her first large garden fountains was Girl with Fish Fountain (also called Young Girl with Fish) which characterizes her prevailing style over the next twenty years. These formal elements include: raised heels, ankles and knees demurely pressed together, shoulders delicately hunched, elbows pulled into the body, and hand bent back with fingers splayed—all of these elements convey messages of coy femininity, vulnerability, and an undeniable measure of self-absorption.
Like many other artists of the time, Frishmuth mostly used professional models, particularly dancers, because they could hold difficult poses at length. But unlike many other artists who used models merely for reference, Frishmuth found inspiration in each model’s personality, which are often reflected in her completed works. She used models of both sexes, but her principal model was a Yugoslavian born dancer, Desha Delteil, who was known professionally as Desha. Frishmuth first hired Desha in 1916 to pose in studio classes that she taught and by the end of the decade, Frishmuth started using Desha for her own work. The dancer had an extraordinary ability to hold interesting poses, even if just for a moment and could duplicate them again on command. Desha had a beautifully proportioned body and could express motion even in her still poses.
In 1928 Gorham Galleries published Famous Small Bronzes, an illustrated hardcover catalog of decorative and garden sculpture cast by Gorham Company Founders which were sold at the Fifth Avenue gallery and by mail order. The great popularity of Frishmuth was evidenced by the fact that nine of her sculptures were represented in the catalog, which was more than twice the representation of any other sculptor. Both the 54-inch and 23-inch models of Playdays were included in the catalog and the 54-inch model was the highest priced work in the catalog offered at $ 3,000.