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. In 1908 Frishmuth set up her own studio in New York. 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.
There are signature formal elements in Frishmuth’s sculpture: 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.
The Vine while long and elegant with inklings of modernity is still strongly academic in rendering, reminiscent of Augustus Saint-Gauden's Diana. The lithe female nude, her body raised upon her toes, extends her left arm and bends backwards in a manner that suggests fluid upward motion. The statue was designed to present strong visual effects from several angles, as Rodin had advised her when she was his student. Nevertheless, The Vine remains anchored in academic tradition.
Private Collection, Midwest
Contemporary American Sculpture - The California Palace of the Legion of Honor Lincoln Park, San Francisco, National Sculpture Society exhibition catalog, 1929, p.121
Famous Small Bronzes: A Representative Exhibit Selected from the Works of Noted Contemporary Sculptors. The Gorham Company, 1928. Illustrated p. 101
Athrens, Kent. Small Bronzes by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. Ohio: Kennedy Museum of Art, Ohio University, 2001, p. 6
The Vine Appears on the cover of Small Bronzes by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth.