Cast Iron Fountains in Paris
The Wallace Fountains are a collection of small cast iron sculptured pieces located all throughout the city of Paris. These are public drinking fountains that were designed by Charles-Auguste Lebourg beginning in 1872. The fountains were named after Richard Wallace, and Englishman, who financed the project. These public fountains are located on frequently traveled sidewalks. These exciting and pleasing artistic features are one of the worldwide known symbols of Paris.
Philanthropy became a popular trend after the Franco-Prussian War, when Paris had gone through difficult times. Sir Richard Wallace was one of these philanthropists, who had inherited a large amount of money from his father, and decided the Parisians should benefit from it. Wallace remained in the city during the siege, founding a hospital for the victims of war, remaining faithful to his adopted country, and not escaping to one of his palatial estates.
The reason he gifted the city with the fountains was because many of the aqueducts had been destroyed during the siege of Paris. This caused the price of water to increase, and since the poor could not afford the cost, they were tempted to turn to alcohol, so Wallace felt this was part of his moral duty for the city. These fountains still continue to provide fresh and clean water to the homeless.
The fountains were designed by Richard Wallace himself, with the goal of practicality as well as beauty. Here are some of the strict guidelines his fountain had to meet:
- Height: They had to be tall enough to be seen from afar but not so tall as to destroy the harmony of the surrounding landscape.
- Form: Both practical to use and pleasing to the eye.
- Price: Affordable enough to allow the installation of dozens.
- Materials: Resistant to the elements, easy to shape, and simple to maintain.
The city government chose the designs, locations, and the dark green color. In all there were four models of the fountains. The material was cast iron, which was cheap and easy to mold. Wallace paid for the majority of the cost, with the city allotting 1000 francs for the larger model and 450 francs for the wall-mounted model.
Wallace chose sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg because he wanted the job to be done quickly, and Lebourg had renowned talent. He was able to study the Wallace sketches, refining them, thus allowing them to become true artistic works. The large model consisted of four caryatids that represented charity, kindness, simplicity, and hope, inspired by the Fontaine des Innocents. Each character is different from the others. The applied model featured a semi-circular pediment with a naiad head which sends water into the basin located between two pilasters. These two models included goblets attached for drinking, but these models were retired because of Hygiene reasons in 1952.
The small model was a simple push button fountains, and are popular for parks in Paris. These were commissioned much more often than the older models. The Colonnade Model was the last model. It looks more like the large model in general shape, but features no caryatids but small columns to reduce cost. There are actually only two of this type remaining of the thirty created.
These fountains are still located throughout the city, and provide rare points of free water. They will run from March 15th to November 15th, and have become an integral part of the Parisian landscape. These features, interestingly enough, never faced criticism but have always been respected.