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Catalog Data

Cast iron, cast zinc (probably), paint
Overall: 118 in. (299.7 cm)
First Bowl: 58 × 70 × 8 in. (147.3 × 177.8 × 20.3 cm)
Second Bowl: 75 × 48 × 5 in. (190.5 × 121.9 × 12.7 cm)
Third Bowl: 85 × 36 × 4 in. (215.9 × 91.4 × 10.2 cm)
Statue: 33 in. (83.8 cm)
ca. 1871-1875
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron and zinc fountain with herons and “Fisher Boy”. This fountain consists of a base, pedestal with cranes, and three tiered basins, the uppermost of which is topped with the figure of a boy holding a carp. The crane pedestal resembles a tree trunk with bark and birds stand beside it, heads held upwards, with water emanating from their beaks. The tiered basins are foliated and separated by naturalistic columns featuring birds and plant motifs. Atop the fountain, the “Fisher Boy” holds a large carp fish strategically covering his nudity, and water spurts from the fish’s mouth. The fountain’s aesthetic is characteristic of the nineteenth-century taste for naturalistic design. Naturalism, the realistic reproduction of the beauties of nature, was a popular style in the Victorian era. Though it appears as early as the 1840’s in America, naturalistic designs continued to the 1900s. This was in part due to the influence of the natural sciences, and interest in nature and gardening, which spread through the upper and middle classes in the nineteenth century. Naturalistic designs incorporated floral, foliate, fruit, vegetal, and animal forms into furnishings and decorative objects for the home and garden. Popular subjects included grapes, cornstalks, ferns, Solomon seal or laurel leaf, passion flowers, lilies of the valley, morning glories, oak leaves, acorns, vines, and roses.
Label Text:
Early in American history, a time when life was more about survival than decoration, water was collected from civic wells and fountains and used for irrigation, cooking, drinking, animals, and cleaning. By nineteenth century, fountains and other water features became decorative accents for the home or garden, enjoyed for the sound and play of light offered by cascading water. In the nineteenth century, systems of mass production and growth of the cast iron industry made fountains accessible to wider audience, including the middle class, yet they remained a symbol of elegance and pretention. By the mid-nineteenth century, fountain components were mass produced. Cast-iron pieces were created by pouring molten iron into molds of compressed sand. Once the iron had cooled, it was removed from the mold. Rough places and sharp edges were then filed away before the piece was bolted together. It would then be painted, varnished, galvanized, or bronzed several times to prevent rust. Since cast iron pieces were made in components and bolted together, numerous combinations were possible. Consumers were able to select from a range of figures, basins, sprays, and pedestals to create a somewhat customized fountain. The Victorian taste for highly ornate was fulfilled by the malleability of metal, which allowed for every surface to be covered with ornamental patterns and botanical subjects. Designs followed the trends of the time with natural forms, ornamental motifs pulled from historic revival styles, and complicated shapes. This satisfied the nineteenth-century tendency to combine of styles, along with elaborate, often whimsical motifs were available through the numerous options for waterspouts, fountain figures, balusters, basins, and coping—molded edging—for fountains.
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Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens