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 column fountain was designed by French sculptor Charles A. Lebourg in 1872 with four caratyds supporting a cupola. Richard Wallace purchased hundreds of fountains which he donated to major cities throughout the world. Twelve Wallace Fountains were donated to Barcelona on the occasion of the 1888 Universal Exhibition. Only two of the original remain at the Rambla in front of the Wax Museum; and in Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes with Paseo de Gràcia. Other Wallace fountains located throughout the city are replicas cast from the original molds.
The fountains were originally forest green with a cross shaped plinth from which the pedestal arises. An elaborate console decorated with a scallop shell from which a string of pearls flows separates four panels on which the image of a water serpent is coiled around a trident. The trident is associated with the mythological Poseidon who struck the earth and water sprung up. A scallop is symbolic of baptism and fertility, and pearls represent purity and wisdom. One panel contains an inscription above the Barcelona City crest: Sociedad / General / de / Aquas / De / Barcelona. Below the crest is an inscription. Agua / Tomada /Directamente / Del / Contador. A cornice contains the name of the designer, Ch.Lebourg SC / 1872.
Four caratytids with raised arms support a fish scale cupola with a fleur de lys on each side; one of which has been affectionately named Vera. The statues in feminine form represent kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety (at a time when the Temperance Movement was very active.) They also represent the 4 seasons: Simplicity symbolizes spring, Charity: summer, Sobriety: autumn and Kindness: winter. The statues differ from each other in several other ways: Simplicity and Sobriety have their eyes closed; whereas the eyes of Kindness and Charity are open. They are also different in the position of the knee and feet, or by the manner in which their tunic is knotted at the bodice.
A stream of water originally descended from the interior of the dome into a basin. Tin cups were chained to the fountains until 1952 when public hygiene became a more prevalent social issue. Water is now released with the press of a button into a shell shaped basin. The four dolphins with entwined tails at the apex are a symbolic protector of all things related to water .
- Caryatid, a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head
- Cornice, a molding or ornamentation that projects from the top of a building
- Cupola, a small, domed structure on top of a roof.
- Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests.