In the 19th century Sir Richard Wallace was a wealthy English art collector and philanthropist who lived in France. When the Franco Prussian war damaged many of the aqueducts in Paris there remained little access to clean water for many of the most needy Parisians. His solution to this problem was the erection of public drinking fountains. The first of 108 fountains was installed on Boulevard de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement in 1875. The remainder is distributed throughout France although most were installed in Paris. For a comprehensive list, description and photographs, click on this link http://www.fontaine-wallace.info/
There were three different type of cast iron fountains manufactured by the Val d’Osne Foundry: 1) wall mounted with a push button release for water, 2) a pedestal fountain that provided a permanent albeit minimum flow of water, and 3) a work of art by the French sculptor, Charles-Auguste Lebourg. The latter form is the model that we shall discuss.
The base of the famous forest green fountain is a cross shaped plinth from which the pedestal arises. An elaborate scroll and shell separates four column panels on which is the image of a water serpent coiled around a trident. The trident is associated with the mythological Poseidon who struck the earth and water sprung up. A cornice contains the name of the manufacturer, Val D’Osne.
Four caratyds with raised arms support a fish scale dome with a fleur de lys on each side. The statues in feminine form represent kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety (at a time when the Temperance Movement was very active.) A stream of water descends from the interior of the dome into a basin. Tin cups were originally chained to the fountains until 1952 when public hygiene became a more prevalent social issue.
The four dolphins with entwined tails at the apex is a symbolic protector of all things related to water
A Wallace Fountain can be seen outside the Wallace Collection in London, the gallery that houses the works of art collected by Sir Richard Wallace and the first four Marquesses of Hertford.