Madeleine Parker and the Fokine connection

An American reader of dancelines, Bill Orzell, has kindly filled in some details of the early life of Madeleine Parker, the young American dancer who died in Adelaide in 1936, during the first tour of Australia by Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes company.

Her image is preserved in bronze sculptures created by the American, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, who used Parker as her model for Playdays, for which Parker posed in 1924 when she was only 12. The sculpture has been cast a number of times, and sometimes piped as a fountain.

At the time Christies sold one cast of Playdays in 2009 for $US140,500, the auction house explained in a note for potential bidders that “a fifty-two inches high version of this work won the Gold Medal given by the Garden Club of America in 1928. Other casts of Playdays are located at the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, Mrs Harriman’s Garden, Washington, D.C. and the Frishmuth Gallery, Hundred Acres, Arcade, New York”.

Frishmuth, born in 1880 in Philadelphia, had studied art in Paris under Rodin. Her work was exhibited by the National Academy of Design, the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the San Francisco Exposition (1939/40). She lived for almost a century.

In Sculptured Hyacinths, a book about Frishmuth’s work, her long-time secretary and companion, Ruth Talcott, explained that Parker was introduced to Frishmuth by the ballet dancer, Desha Delteil, a student of Michel Fokine. Delteil, in turn, had been a model for Frishmuth from 1916 and went on to dance in movies and at the Kit Kat Cabaret in London.

Parker, a fellow student of Fokine’s, had made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York by the age of 12 and seemed to have no doubts about modelling for Frishmuth in the same year, even suggesting the pose. As Talcott explained: “Frishmuth asked young Madeleine what she would do if she were standing on a flat rock in a shallow pool and there were frogs nearby, and the girl said that she would probably try to tickle the back of one of the frogs. ‘Like this’.”

Frishmuth’s papers were donated to the library of Syracuse University.

As for Delteil, she is preserved in film, dancing in an interpretation of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an act presented at the Kit Kat Cabaret but also captured Pathe in a studio setting. The film is mute but you can hum the Gershwin melody to get the idea!

Click on the photo below to see the Pathe film.


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Madeleine Parker, model for the Playdays, a sculpture created by Harriett Whitney Frishmuth

Desha Delteil Performing by Nickolas Muray for Vanity Fair, 1921