Iconic Parisian fountains donated by generous Brit

Did you know? 

28 August 2019
By Connexion journalist

The Wallace water fountains are an iconic part of Paris architecture, and were given to the city by a rich British philanthropist, Sir Richard Wallace.

The city is so attached to these fountains, there was outcry when it was thought they were going to be replaced by modern drinking fountains earlier this year. Paris City Hall quickly confirmed that the forty modern ones installed in May with mister and solar panels are in different locations.

There are around a hundred in the original Wallace style, mostly financed by the philanthropist, with others added later.

The originals were not just for refreshment purposes, but as a vital water supply when drinking water was scarce after the siege of Paris in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian war.

Many of the original fountains had been destroyed in the siege and the Paris population was growing.

Sir Richard Wallace was given permission by the city to erect as many fountains as he wished at his own expense. He was inspired by the drinking fountains he had seen in London. 

They cost around 675 francs each and the city paid for plumbing and installation.

He commissioned three styles of fountain from the French sculptor, Charles-Auguste Lebourg.

Two were free standing; one, the most well-known, with four classical style statues representing Simplicity, Generosity, Sobriety and Charity, and one with plainer columns.

The third style, of which fewer were made, was wall mounted. They were in cast iron and painted green, as Napoléon III wanted a touch of nature in the city, and they matched the newspaper kiosks.

The first fountain was erected on the boulevard de la Villette in 1872. It was an immediate success, and others were installed soon after. 

Suzanne Higgott, curator at the London Wallace Collection Museum has written a book about this remarkable man.

In it she says that a one-day survey of one of the fountains at the Place du Château d’Eau in the 1870’s found there had been 1,783 users, including waiters and several women and children. 

It meant people who could not afford to buy expensive drinks had a free supply of clean water.

Sir Richard Wallace was born in 1818, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess of Hertford and spent his childhood at his father’s chateau in the Bois de Boulogne.

When his father died in 1870, he became, at the age of 52, one of the richest men in Europe.

During the Prussian siege he immediately volunteered to help. It was said that hundreds of British men, women and children would have died of cold and hunger without his support.

One of his fountains can be seen in London, outside the Wallace Collection Museum.

See also: Benefactor who saved thousands honoured

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