Breaking the Wave

The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, has a small and perfect collection of American sculpture, painting, and decorative arts. The beautiful courtyard on the main floor gives discreet prominence to Harriet Whitney Frishmuth‘s “The Crest of the Wave,” a bronze fountain composed of a half-lifesize woman balanced on a wave, from which bronze fish spout small streams of water. Frishmuth, one of the most successful women sculptors of the American beaux-arts era, created this lively and sensuous work circa 1929. It is typical of her subject matter; realistic and exuberant in tone, celebrating a young woman who embodies grace and sensual freedom.

Frishmuth (September 17, 1880–January 1980) lived in Europe with her mother and sisters after her parents divorced. She studied for a short time with Redon at the École des Beaux Arts, eventually returning to New York to work as a studio assistant for the sculptor Karl Bitter. She modeled small figures (including bookends and ashtrays) for the Gorham Manufacturing Company before establishing a studio of her own. Many of Frishmuth’s representations of a sublime figure resulted from her choice of model Desha Delteil, a ballet, motion picture and nightclub dancer who reportedly was able to hold difficult poses for long periods of time. It is not known if Delteil posed for “The Wave,” but she posed for one of Frishmuth’s other signature pieces, “The Vine,” now in the sculpture courtyard of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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2 responses to “Breaking the Wave

  1. Ihave a piece of Harriet W. Frishmuth’s work with copyright 1911 with Gorham Co. and her name on it. It is a tray with two owls and a lady. I want to sell it but have no idea where look for buyers.

    • My best advice would be to have the piece valued by a reputable auction house that specializes in American art, like Skinner Auctions (Marlborough, Mass.). Depending on the value, you might want to have the piece included in an auction of 20th century sculpture.

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