Treasures: Statue likely less than 50 years old has decorative value

This statue was probably designed to be used outdoors.

This statue was probably designed to be used outdoors.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

This statue is 50 inches tall to the top of her hand. I got her at an estate sale in Laurel, Md., about 25 years ago. I have found no signature.

She is well made and stands proudly in our living room. It would not hurt my feelings if she turned out to have been made under the tutelage of Harriet Frishmuth. Any information would be appreciated.

Thank you,

B. S.

Dear B. S.:

We are familiar with the work of Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980). Interestingly, one of us enjoys her statue “The Vine” when visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the other sees it on every visit to the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Both places have original castings of this iconic Frishmuth nude in the larger 831/2-inch size, which was first made in 1923.

Frishmuth created the sculpture in 1921, but originally, it was only 111/4 inches tall.

The first sculpture was cast by Gorham Coporation of Providence, R.I., and was so popular that 396 were produced.

The point here is there are a rather large number of Frishmuth sculptures in existence, and one or two might indeed have fallen through the proverbial cracks. But, unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.

How can we be so sure? There are several factors that contribute to our conclusion.

First, genuine Frishmuth sculptures are typically signed with the artist’s name impressed into the bronze.

Second, the vast majority of genuine Frishmuth pieces also carried the Roman Bronze Works (of New York) or Gorham Corporation foundry mark.

Thirdly, the style of the piece is only vaguely reminiscent of Frishmuth’s work and does not exhibit the elan and spirit of her creations.

Lastly, we have some questions about whether or not this piece was actually cast from solid bronze.

B. S. was very good about sending us a variety of photographs. One of them shows the underside of the piece, and it just does not look like bronze to us. The patina on the surface is plainly artificial and of the sort found on relatively modern reproductions, and the color appears to be off. (This may be a problem with the photograph.)

In addition, the underside has a white cast generally not found on genuine bronzes.

Of course, the white cast could be from cement used to add weight to the pieces so it would not topple over in outdoor conditions. Or it might be where it was attached to a base and used as a garden ornament or at the center of a fountain.

In summation, we think the piece is less than 50 years old, has nothing whatsoever to do with Harriet Frishmuth and is probably made from some sort of white metal, possibly with bronze plating.

It is a little hard to establish a definitive value on this rather monumental piece, but we believe, based on its decorative rather than its antique value, an insurance value would be in the $1,500 to $2,000 range and perhaps a bit more.

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