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Catalog Data

J.W. Fiske Iron Works  Search this
Cast iron, plate glass, paint
Overall: 47 × 36 1/2 in. (119.4 × 92.7 cm)
Tank (interior): 14 × 33 in. (35.6 × 83.8 cm)
Base: 29 1/4 × 23 × 14 1/2 in. (74.3 × 58.4 × 36.8 cm)
Rococo Revival
Glass gardens
New York, New York, United States
ca. 1881-1893
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron aquarium on base with plate glass windows. The rectangular tank has two windows on the front, two on the back, and one on each side. Between each pane of glass is a cast column with a spike finial on top. The base is made of cast iron with two legs joined by upper and lower stretchers. The design is in the Rococo Revival style with C-scrolls, vegetal forms, and scroll feet. The major characteristics of the art, architecture, and decorative arts produced in nineteenth century are historicism, eclecticism, and mixing multiple styles together. Rococo Revival style was the most popular style of the Victorian era in the United States. It emerged as early as the 1830s and continued to be seen into the 1900s. This style was modeled after eighteenth-century French designs, yet the revival of the style pushed elements further. Rococo Revival objects tended to be highly ornamental, with more substantial, less delicate forms, and visually dense decoration. This style is defined by its sense of movement and its delicacy, as well as curvaceousness, asymmetry, and curvilinear forms. Rococo Revival motifs included floral imagery, abundant swags of fruit and foliage, shell-like waves, ‘S’ & ‘C’ scrolls, rocaille decoration, serpentine curves, frozen water forms, volutes, acanthus leaves, and cabriole legs.
Label Text:
In the mid-1800s, interest in marine and fresh water life soared, which led to the development and widespread popularity of aquariums for the home. Aquariums served as fish tanks or small ornamental fountains in the Victorian home. They might contain wild plants and creatures combined with ferns and fountain feature. Some aquariums were salt-water, providing a glimpse of ocean life, but the majority were fresh-water aquariums. The large plate-glass windows gave a panoramic view of an underwater world and earned the aquarium a place of prominence in many homes. Books and articles were written with instructions on creating and maintaining parlor aquariums, as well as what forms of plant and animal life to stock in it. Water plants and animals were often transplanted from the wild to the drawing room to recreate an encapsulated living world. Victorians watched the antics, growing cycles, and symbiotic relationships that flourished within their parlor aquarium. Soon every home wanted an aquarium and, with price cutting innovations of the Industrial Revolution, many homes could now afford one. Because of their popularity, aquariums were mass produced in a variety of materials and sizes, and they were frequently combined with a Wardian case, bird cage, or plant stand to form a large showpiece for the parlors or conservatories of the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. Aquariums created an ostentatious display that provided an escape from the city and were evidence of the owner’s social superiority and interests in natural history. The household aquarium was a source of entertainment, but it also afforded Victorians with opportunity to for scientific study of the plants and creatures behind the glass.
J. W. Fiske New York.
Inscription on stand: J. W. Fiske New York.
aquariums (containers)  Search this
case furniture  Search this
cases (containers)  Search this
cast iron  Search this
ferneries (greenhouses)  Search this
glass  Search this
plate glass  Search this
terrariums  Search this
Wardian cases  Search this
Garden ornaments and furniture  Search this
indoor gardening  Search this
Victoriana  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
1984.198.a, b
Restrictions & Rights:
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens