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Catalog Data

Cast iron, paint
32 × 41 × 16 in. (81.3 × 104.1 × 40.6 cm)
ca. 1850-1890
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron settee in the “Grape” pattern, also known as the “Vine” pattern. The back, arms, and apron are formed from a pierced network of three-dimensional grape clusters and leaves on intertwining vines that appear to ramble freely. The back arches slightly and curves forward to form down-swept arms. The seat has a pierced, architectural pattern and is bolted to the frame. The legs have a trellis-like structure with twisting vines, grape clusters, and leaves and terminate in a leaf-shaped foot. Iron rods attach to the legs creating a crossed stretcher for additional support. This design was created by Charles Young in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850 and is one of the most recognizable patterns of the nineteenth century. It was so popular that nearly every cast-iron furnishings foundry offered an interpretation of this 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:
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. Settees, which are two-person seats with a backrest and arms, were a popular feature of the Victorian garden. Most garden settees were designed to be suitable for use with a table and were frequently sold with matching suites of chairs, benches, and tables. Designs for garden settees followed the Victorian taste for eclectic styles and borrowed Classical, Rustic, Gothic, Rococo, Renaissance, and Oriental motifs; or they were chosen to blend with their natural surroundings in Rustic, animal, or botanical forms. Settees and other furnishings were strategically placed as the focal point or an accessory to create a specific feeling for a setting. They 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. Cast-iron, wrought-iron, and wirework settees were mostly for use in the garden although some designs were suited for indoor use as well.
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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