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Made by Robert Wellford, American (born England), active c. 1798 - 1839

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Painted pine and plaster composition ornament

57 inches × 7 feet 4 1/2 inches × 9 7/8 inches (144.8 × 224.8 × 25.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 207, American Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Joseph E. Temple Fund, 1920

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In the refined woodwork schemes of fashionable Neoclassical and Federal-style interiors of post-Revolutionary Philadelphia, elegantly ornamented mantels such as the one served as the central element. Decorations consisted of carved motifs and applied "composition," a plasterlike material popularized by Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) as the best material for conveying the fine, delicate lines of the neoclassical style. The popularity of neoclassical ornaments and furnishings was inspired by the art of ancient Greece and Rome, found in the 1760s at the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.

Robert Wellford was born south of London and apprenticed in composition-making with John Jacques, the famous Paris-trained composition maker who brought the craft to London in the mid-eighteenth century. In about 1796 Wellford immigrated to Philadelphia, where he established the finest and most prominent ornamental composition manufactory in the United States. The crisply defined details characteristic of Wellford's work were achieved through the use of brass molds rather than wooden molds. Wellford supplied carpenters and house builders in Philadelphia and as far away as Charleston, South Carolina, with a wide range of composition ornaments and instructions for properly "tempering and fixing" them to interior woodwork. This mantel--one of thirteen in the Museum's extensive collection of architectural woodwork--is signed by Wellford on the central sarcophagus.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Elaborately ornamented mantels such as this served as the central element in the refined schemes of decorative woodwrork prescribed for many Neoclassical interiors in Philadelphia during the Federal era. Its ornamental surfaces show a combination of various carved and applied motifs made of "composition," a plaster-like material, that were inspired by the recently rediscovered archaeological styles of ancient Greece and Rome that were celebrated during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Robert Wellford of Philadelphia perfected the manufacture of "ornamental composition," and supplied a wide range of molded decorative elements to carpenters and house builders along with instructions facilitating their proper "tempering and fixing" to interior woodwork. This mantel, which is one of thirteen in the Museum's extensive collection of architectural woodwork, is signed by Wellford on the central sarcophagous and thus is one of the few examples firmly documented to this influential craftsman/inventor. Jack L. Lindsey, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 266.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.