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Catalog Data

Cast iron, paint
5 × 36 in. (12.7 × 91.4 cm)
Rococo Revival
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron basin for a fountain with shell motif. The design is composed of three bivalve shell halves and three conch shells. A large opening in the center of the basin would have connected to a fountain pipe. Basins for fountains were usually no more than 8 inches deep and circular. For basins meant to spill over, the edges were shaped to vary the location and amount of water cascading over the sides. Shells, acanthus leaves, egg-and-dart motifs and other decorative patterns were frequently used to adorn them. In addition, basins might have small applied ornaments such as frogs, turtles, rocks, water lily, ivy, or other foliage.
Label Text:
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:
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Usage conditions apply
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Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens