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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Widener figural fountain brought $392,250. Photo courtesy of Bonhams & Butterfields.
This fountain is big enough and regal enough to be housed outside Cinderella’s castle.
In the center of the huge circular pool sits two massive and muscly half-man, half-fish creatures. They look irritated too.

Add to this scene one mean-looking hippo, two serpent-like damsels in distress, some lotus plus a few water lily vines. The end result is a spectacle straight out of 1900, which is when this fountain was built.

Leave it to the Victorians. They loved showiness like this.

For most of its life, the fountain sat outside Lynnewood Hall, the 110 room residence of philanthropist Peter Widener. Widener was an internationally known art collector, mostly Old Master and Impressionist paintings.

He built this Georgian mansion in 1898 on 300 acres north of Philadelphia to house his ever increasing collection. The property also included stables, greenhouses, a polo field and a reservoir. It took a staff of 100 to maintain the property. This was before income taxes. It probably didn’t seem like such a dinosaur back then.

The house had 36 acres of gardens to go along with it. Widener hired French landscape architect Jacques Greber, son of well known French sculptor Henri-Leon Greber to design it. Unfortunately, Widener died in 1915 before the project was completed.

When Greber finally did finish the gardens at Lynnewood Hall they were called the finest example of French classical landscape art in America. The icing on the cake came when his father, Henry-Leon designed and supervised the casting of the fountain.

The mythical creatures adorning it are called Tritons and Nereids. Nereids were the daughters of the sea god Nereus who lived in the Mediterranean Sea. Tritons were the male counterparts.

Their job was to protect sailors and ships in trouble. In Greek mythology, Tritons and Nereids escorted ships to the Trojan Wars and helped the shipwrecked Jason and his Argonauts.

It’s ironic. Protecting ships and sailors was important to Widener, the home’s owner, because he held part ownership in the White Star Line, which included the Titanic in its fleet.

His son, George Dunton Widener, his grandson Harry and their valet died when the Titanic went down. His daughter-in-law and her maid survived.

Not even these massive sea creatures outside his home could save the ill-fated Titanic.

As the remaining family members died off over time, the house changed hands and eventually became a Theological Seminary. The seminary was not able to maintain the property and began selling off fixtures. In disrepair, the house still stands where it was built surrounded by the original wrought iron fence.

The bronze figural fountain from outside the home went up for sale on March 19 at Bonhams and Butterfields in San Francisco. Offered in the Garden and Architectural Ornaments auction, it was expected to sell for $2,000-$3,000.

The fountain brought $392,250. It’s only one of two figural Greber fountains known to exist in the United States.

Here are some current values for other garden statuary offered in the auction.

Garden and Architectural Ornaments

Pool; French Baroque-style limestone surround and fountain; 5 feet 3 1/2 inches high; $8,365.

Cast Stone Figures; Four Seasons; set of 4 on pedestals; Continental; 61 inches high; $9,560.

Marble Bust; Emperor Hadrian with head turned, wearing armor; carved; 19th century; $9,560.

Iron Gates; American painted; geometric design; circa 1908; 6 feet 7 inches high; $12,548.

Fireplace Surround; Carrara marble; Italian, Neoclassical; acanthus banded edge; stepped base; early-20th century; 6 feet high; $26,888.

Iron Wall Fountain; Grotesque Mask; Louis XIV; scrolled and tapering fluted backplate centering the mask; late-17th century; 4 feet 5 1/2 inches high; $35,850.

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