Think of a typical Parisian scene and there’s every chance it will feature the unmistakeable silhouette of a Wallace drinking fountain… but a handful can also be spotted in Bordeaux!
These elegant cast-iron public drinking fountains, designed in 1872 by the French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg, were originally commissioned by an Englishman in Paris, the wealthy art collector and philanthropist Richard Wallace (1818-1890 and buried at Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris). Wallace’s fortune had been inherited from his father and, as his adopted hometown suffered during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Wallace put his riches to altruistic use, first funding two field hospitals and then donating to the city 50 of these drinking fountains, aimed at offering sources of free drinking water to the homeless and needy.
Two differing models (large and applied models) were originally conceived, Wallace establishing criteria that had to be met in terms of height (tall enough to be seen from afar but not so tall as to destroy the harmony of the surrounding landscape), form (practical and pleasing to the eye), affordable price and materials (resistant, easy to shape and simple to maintain). Two further variants followed (small and colonnade models) but, ultimately, the most iconic design was to be the large model.
The classic Wallace fountain is 2.71 metres tall and incorporates an octagonal pedestal on which four caryatids (representing kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety) are affixed with their backs turned and their arms supporting a pointed dome decorated by dolphins. The water, now activated by a foot pedal, is distributed in a trickle that falls from the centre of the dome down into a basin. Originally produced by the Val d’Osne foundry in north-eastern France, Wallace fountains continue to be manufactured in the same region by GHM in Sommevoire.
In 1873, soon after the first fountains were installed in Paris, the wealthy banker Daniel Iffla (1825-1907, better-known as Daniel Osiris) decided to follow Wallace’s lead in Bordeaux. Osiris funded the purchase of six Wallace fountains, stipulating they be located at points throughout the city that had been recommended to him by a city waterworks engineer. One of these locations was on Place des Augustins (now Place du Général-Sarrail), symbolically near to Osiris’s birthplace.
The fountain remained there until 2003, when it was relocated to Place Stalingrad on the right bank of the Garonne. At the time the fountain didn't fit in with the plans of urban architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who had been commissioned to modernise Rue Sainte-Catherine - which runs along one side of the small triangular square. But a campaign was led by photographer and writer Richard Zéboulon to have the fountain returned to Place du Général-Sarrail, out of respect for the memory of Osiris's generous contributions to the city. Zéboulon managed to convince the Mairie to backtrack and the fountain is now back in its original position:
Two other 1873-vintage fountains can also still be seen in the Jardin Public and in the gardens of Palais Rohan, the city hall:
Some mystery surrounds the other three original fountains, which were reportedly positioned on what is now Place des Martyrs-de-la-Résistance, Place Gambetta and near Saint-Michel church. It is thought they disappeared during the Second World War, before later re-emerging: one can now be seen at the cultural centre in nearby Créon; the second ended up on the island of Grenada in the West Indies, where it was destroyed by a hurricane; the third recently turned up for sale at an auction.
More recent fountains, produced by GHM around the turn of the millennium, have been installed throughout the city. This includes Place Stalingrad, where the Général-Sarrail fountain had been a temporary resident. Loyal readers will recognise the former Théâtre Alcazar in the background!
Similarly, this next fountain is the focal point of another former blog subject: Place Georges-de-Porto-Riche, in the side-streets between Rue Sainte-Catherine and Place de la Bourse.
A little further north, this fountain, painted a paler shade of green than its counterparts, can be seen on the scenic Place Mitchell, named after the Irishman who founded the city's first glassworks, creating the bottles that enabled Bordeaux to launch its international wine export trade.
Finally, heading back towards the riverside, this fountain is to be spotted on Cours Xavier-Arnozan:
- Find them: Place du Général Sarrail, Jardin Public, Jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville, Place Stalingrad, Place Porto-Riche, Place Mitchell, Cours Xavier-Arnozan.
- If you're tempted to purchase your own Wallace Fountain, check out the GHM website. Or else content yourself with seeing how they're made in this video report or viewing this fine introduction to the fountains.
- And if you think Wallace fountains deserve whole websites to themselves, you will enjoy membres.multimania.fr/savoy and www.fontaine-wallace.info (the latter is solely focused on Wallace fountains in Paris).