The grounds of the Belmont Estate were filled with garden ornaments such as cast iron and marble statues. Adelicia's curated collection featured popular 19th century images and themes related to geography, mythology and philosophy virtues.
Adelicia's elaborate collection has survived, in part. Due to the hazards of natural conditions and the statues' deterioration, all original statues have been removed from their original location and are now displayed indoors. The gardens, however, are not empty. Belmont University commissioned Nashville sculptor, Tony Novak, to complete the restoration. Using the original statues, Novak restored missing pieces, and recast the statues. These cast copies have been placed in their original location on Belmont's grounds.
In addition to these marble statues, cast iron garden ornaments were a fixture in American gardens by the 1850s. Its use ranged from decorative trims to summer houses, now known as gazebos. Urns and statuary were the most common cast iron found in gardens and public parks. Adelicia supplemented her Italian marble statue collection with a variety of cast iron statues. The marble statues were all of people while the cast iron statues, with four known exceptions, featured animals. She used both marble and cast iron for urns.
It is extremely difficult to attribute unsigned pieces of iron due multiple companies producing identical pieces. Not only were there large manufacturers in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, nearly every city of every size had an iron foundry. Nashville and Clarksville, Tennessee, were no exceptions.
What survives on the grounds today is the most remarkable collection of 19th century estate cast iron remaining in the United States. When viewing the collection, the Original Location refers to the location of the statue during the time of Adelicia Acklen. Location of the Original refers to existing location of the 19th-century original statue.
Today images are taken for granted. However, in the 1850s when Belmont Mansion was occupied by Adelicia Acklen and her family the color printing press was still years away, and the camera was new, experimental, and primitive. Printing presses could only reproduce an image after a craftsman had turned that image into a stone or steel etching or engraving. To a person of the nineteenth century, the copy was a work of art and very important. An artist had to sit in front of the original piece being copied and repaint it in order for a person to obtain a copy. Faithfulness to the original painting was important for these highly skilled craftsmen. The teaching of this craft was emphasized at major Italian art academies until the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century. The best copyist could only copy about twelve to fourteen complete paintings a year. Therefore, a month’s salary went into each painting. Also, the copy artist would often have to pay a sitting fee to the gallery or the owner of the work being copied, making the better copies more expensive. There were often long waiting lists for copyists to reproduce the more popular paintings.
Americans placed a great deal of importance on copies of paintings they called “Old Masters”, the Italian and Spanish artists of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and (to a lesser extent) eighteenth centuries. Most Americans never went to Europe and never saw these important paintings. At best they may have seen one or two black and white engravings of the paintings in a book, so to see the copies was the closest they would come to seeing the originals. Thus these copies while to our 21st century minds may seem like lesser imitations of art they were in fact prized possessions to 19th century families like the Acklens.
Prints & Engravings
Today there is little appreciation of engravings, but this was not the case in the nineteenth century. Engravings were the sole means by which most people could see the “Old Masters” or the works of artists from other countries. The competent engraver was viewed as an artist. Both the American Art Union and the Royal Academy of England recognized engraving as a fine art.
Adelicia collected during a period in which the mezzotint and line engraving dominated the field of large framing prints. Most if not all of Adelicia’s prints would have been a combination of engraving and mezzotint. Mercy’s Dream by A. H. Ritchie (American, 1822-1895) from a painting by Daniel Huntington (American, 1816-1909) was a part of her collection and considered one of the great works of this period.
The popularity of prints was given a great deal of help by the establishment of the Art Unions, both in this country and in England. The first Art Union was started in London in 1836; the Printsellers’ Association was founded in 1847. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert also helped popularize prints with royal patronage. By the middle of the nineteenth century, pictures of topical interest were the most popular. The collection of known prints at Belmont followed true to form in that they all pertained to literary and historical subject matter.