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.