September 17, 2016, marks Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s 136th birthday. Although the name might not ring a bell immediately, those of you who have had the chance to stroll through the galleries at Crystal Bridges are definitely familiar with her sculpture, The Bubble.
Born in Philadelphia on September 17, 1880, Frishmuth spent the majority of her formative years living in Europe with her mother and sister, attending school in Paris and spending summers in Switzerland. It was in Switzerland that she first discovered modeling clay, which sparked her interest and prompted her to enroll in a sculpture class for women in Paris. The class was critiqued by the renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin, who advised Frishmuth to “first always look at the silhouette of the subject and be guided by it; second, remember that movement is the transition from one attitude to the next.”[i] Frishmuth would take this advice to heart by spending her career mastering the ability to capture human form, especially the female body, in motion.
Many of Frishmuth’s models, both male and female, were dancers. Their lean, athletic bodies and ability to hold difficult poses for an extended length of time allowed Frishmuth to create sculptures that celebrated the beauty of the human form and captured the vitality of the American spirit.
While she is best known for her large sculptures of the female form in complicated poses, such as The Bubble and The Vine (in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Frishmuth sometimes created smaller versions of these famous works that were popularly used as home décor around the turn of the twentieth century. The Vine, for example, was produced in a 12 ½-inch-tall version. There were 396 replicas produced at this scale.
Although her career had come to a halt much earlier, Frishmuth passed away on January 1, 1980, at almost 100 years old. Her unique style cemented her position as one of the leading sculptors of her day and continues to captivate today’s audiences.
More information on Frishmuth’s favorite model, Desha Delteil, and The Bubble can be found here: https://crystalbridges.org/blog/the-bubble-an-artist-and-her-model/.
You can also learn more about Harriet Frishmuth and The Bubble from one of our amazing Gallery Guides during a Women in Art Tour. The tour focuses on the fabulous works from the collection by female artists and is offered on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
[i] Quote taken from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/23.106.3/