Monday, May 5, 2008
Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890), an Englishman for whom France was his adopted home, inherited a fortune from his father and decided to share it with the ordinary citizens of Paris. Drinking water was scarce in Paris during the 1870s, as the city was reeling from the siege during the Franco-Prussian war and the commune incident. Many of the aqueducts had been destroyed, and the poor had to pay for drinking water, then priced higher than wine. It was partly a moral duty to rescue the poor from alcoholism that led Sir Richard to finance the installation of dozens of these public water fountains along the sidewalks of Paris. Constructed of cast iron and painted a dark green, they continue to service and beautify the city today. Wallace commissioned their design from French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg; the four female figures supporting the roof of the fountain represent Simplicity, Temperance, Charity, and Goodness.
Note: After his death, Sir Richard’s wife bequeathed the family home on London’s Manchester Square and its important collection of fine and decorative arts to the nation of England. It is known as the Wallace Collection. Many of the thousands of items that it contains are of French origin.