Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Medium:
Cast iron, paint
Dimensions:
35 1/2 × 59 × 22 in. (90.2 × 149.9 × 55.9 cm)
Style:
Naturalism
Type:
Benches
Date:
ca.1850-1920
Period:
Victorian (1837-1901)
Description:
Cast-iron bench in the “Fern” or “Fern with blackberries” pattern. This naturalistic design is formed by pierced, interlacing vines and foliage. The backrest is formed by fern leaves arranged with strict symmetry on either side of a central frond. The fronds are encircled with an interlacing motif, which highlight the clusters of blackberries in diamond shapes hanging from the top rail of the seatback. The ends of the back curve forward to form the armrests. The seat is formed from openwork, interlacing scrolls. The legs are vine-like and terminate in plain ball feet. Ferns were a favorite plant of the Victorian era, so much so that the term “Pteridomania”- meaning “fern craze” - was coined. Ferns were considered the pinnacle of good taste, and nearly every upper- and middle-class home had live fern plants on display in the nineteenth century. The fern craze went beyond just the live plants, fern motifs were firmly connected with the fashion and décor of the time. A fascination with the form, color, and texture of ferns led to multiple fern motifs that were cast, carved, painted, and etched on every type of objects. The motif on this bench is the Boston or sword fern, and it was the most exuberantly celebrated in the fern craze. This design was one of the bestselling patterns for cast-iron furnishings in the nineteenth century, and variations of it were produced by most foundries in the United States. 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.
Ferns were a favorite plant of the Victorian era, so much so that the term “Pteridomania”- meaning “fern craze” - was coined. Ferns were considered the pinnacle of good taste, and nearly every upper- and middle-class home had live fern plants on display in the nineteenth century. The fern craze went beyond just the live plants, fern motifs were firmly connected with the fashion and décor of the time. A fascination with the form, color, and texture of ferns led to multiple fern motifs that were cast, carved, painted, and etched on every type of objects. The motif on this bench is the Boston or sword fern, and it was the most exuberantly celebrated in the fern craze. This design was one of the bestselling patterns for cast-iron furnishings in the nineteenth century, and variations of it were produced by most foundries in the United States. 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.
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:
Garden furnishings, also called outdoor or patio furnishings, are specifically designed for outdoor use. They are typically made of weather-resistant materials such as metal, stone, wood, wicker, and artificial stone. Cast-iron was the most popular material for garden furnishings and accessories from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century. This was in part due to systems of mass production developed in the Industrial Revolution that allowed outdoor furniture to be readily available and affordable to the public. Throughout the nineteenth century, as leisure activities increased, materials diversified, and technology was embraced, garden furnishings came to be regarded as domestic amenities and reflected changing styles. Outdoor furnishings, such as settees, chairs, fountains, urns, and tables were essential to fashionably appointed lawns, conservatories, parks, cemeteries, and gardens in America.
The garden in the nineteenth century, typical of Victorian style, tended to be excessively ornamental and complex, combining colors, textures, and materials through plants and garden ornaments. Garden furnishings, such as urns, plant stands, tables, and seating, became essential to the overall design. As an extension of the house, the garden required furniture, and outdoor seating found its way onto balconies, verandahs, and porches as well as across lawns and parks. Benches, which are seats for several people with or without a backrest and arms, were a popular feature of the Victorian garden. Most garden benches were designed to be suitable for use with a table and were frequently sold with matching suites of chairs, settees, and tables. Designs for garden benches followed the Victorian taste for eclectic styles and borrowed Classical, Gothic, Rococo, Renaissance, and Oriental motifs; or they were chosen to blend with their natural surroundings in Rustic, animal, or botanical forms. Benches and other garden furnishings were strategically placed as the focal point or an accessory to create a specific feeling for a setting. Garden furnishings were used on porches and verandahs, as well as throughout the garden, to extend the architecture of the house to the grounds, providing a link between art and nature, manmade and organic.
Topic:
benches  Search this
cast iron  Search this
outdoor furniture  Search this
ferns  Search this
Garden ornaments and furniture  Search this
garden seats  Search this
parks (recreation areas)  Search this
seating furniture  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
1984.001.001
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens
GUID:
http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/aq436f188f1-9d0c-417e-9ac3-df32f076c8f9
EDAN-URL:
edanmdm:hac_1984.001.001