Tag Archives: Niki de Saint Phalle

Paris Wanderlust: Fountains


Paris has found a myriad of ways to deliver water to her citizens in public spaces, and every fountain, cascade, and spout has its own story and personality. Below are some of them, in rough chronological order of their creation.

Fontaine des Innocents

The Renaissance-style Fontaine des Innocents sits on a large square, formerly the site of Saints-Innocents, an overcrowded medieval cemetery.

Architect: Pierre Lescot; sculptor: Jean Goujon. 1540. Place Joachim-du-Bellay (1er)

To the horror of Parisians, the bodies of the cemetery, buried one on top of the other, became so heavy that they crashed into the walls of adjacent cellars. To solve the problems created by city cemeteries, the skeletal remains of millions were exhumed and relocated to a subterranean limestone quarry on the Left Bank. These bones, of course, form the decorative ossuary of the Catacombes.

During Haussmann redo of Paris, Fontaine des Innocents was moved to the square, which is now mostly empty except for the crumbling monument.

But I realize I haven’t said anything about the fountain itself. It’s a Renaissance beauty — not to get overly technical, but it’s a real Romeo and Juliet trysting place. I hope someday the City of Paris will restore it. The world needs the lovers’ children.

Octagonal pond with putti fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg

view from Tour Montparnasse

Jardin du Luxembourg’s landmark octagonal pond was built for Marie de’ Medici, widow of Henri IV. Now it’s a public pond where adults forever unwind and children eternally navigate toy sailboats.

1630s? (6e)

Medici Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg

Fontaine des Quatre Saisons

Fontaine des Quatre Saisons (1745). 57-59 rue de Grenelle (7e)

The colossal edifice of Fontaine des Quatre Saisons seems absurdly disproportionate to the tiny mascarons dispensing water in trickles (see the two to the right of the couple above).

The water-spouts near the ground are easy to miss amid the dry grandiosity towering above them.

At the time of the fountain’s construction during the reign of Louis XV, Voltaire complained:

A fine piece of architecture, but what kind of fountain has only two faucets where the water porters will come to fill their buckets?

Fontaine du Fellah

The Egyptian-influenced Fontaine du Fellah is one of several Parisian public fountains commemorating Napoleon’s military campaigns:

52 Rue de Sèvres, next to Metro Vaneau (1806) ( 7e)

Above the fellah (Egyptian peasant), an eagle spreads its wings, symbolizing Napoleon’s power over the conquered people.

Below the fellah is mounted a mascaron of a lion’s head — but to me, it resembles a death’s head. An unpleasant lion, in any case.

Napoleon’s Fontaine du Fellah was a copy of an ancient statue. Not Egyptian, but Roman. Antinous, a favourite of Emperor Hadrian, donned an Osiris costume and modeled for the sculpture. So Napoleon’s fellah is an imitation of an imitation. Exoticism twice removed. Still, he carries Napoleon’s water.

However . . . do I see a hint of irony in the Archaic smile playing about the lips of this fellah?

Fontaine du Palmier

The phallic triumphal column of Fontaine du Palmier presents a more ambitious monument to Napoleon I’s military adventures:

Place du Châtelet (1e)

The victory column echoes Roman antecedents. Napoleon III added sphinxes to the base, all the rage in Paris since his uncle’s conquest of Egypt.

Fontaine Charlemagne

Fontaine Charlemagne checks the boxes of fountain tropes: putto inside vaulted niche hoists giant clamshell and slouches in basin supported by dolphins.

(1840) (4e)

It was installed in 1840, the same year as the similarly-styled monumental fountains of the Place de la Concorde. This one is putto-sized.

Fontaine Charlemagne is located next to Lycée Charlemagne on Rue Charlemagne. A triple eponym in one spot.

Fontaine St-Michel

The enormous Fontaine St-Michel was an Haussmannian project designed to cover the end of a building. A proposal to include a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte was nixed in favour of the Archangel slaying Satan.

Gabriel Davioud, Fontaine St-Michel (1858-1860) (6e)

The reddish marble columns upstage even the drama of the archangel: their unusual colour makes a big statement in a city awash in cream-grey limestone and patinated bronze. But the red marble with white veins is patriotic if not Parisian: it originates from the Languedoc region.

Raban Maur, medieval monk-scholar, described the marble as a mixture of foam and blood. Fooey.

The allegorical fountains of Square Émile-Chautemps

The modest but fetching Haussmanian fountains of Square Émile-Chautemps consist of allegorical figures. Below: Agriculture and Industry.

Boulevard Sébastopo (1860) (3e)

Fontaine Sainte-Geneviève

Three little lion’s-head mascarons spout water into drains at Fontaine Sainte-Geneviève.

Nice shade of blue.

Placette Jacqueline-de-Romilly, near the Panthéon, 1864 (5e)

Fountain of the Four Corners of the World

Located in Jardin Marco Polo, the Fountain of the Four Corners of the World was created for Haussmann’s urban reconstruction:

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde (1867-1874) (6e)

One critic described the dynamic female nudes representing the cardinal points as “wild” and “vulgar.”


Wallace Fountains

Below, a friendly Wallace Fountain. Designed and financed by British philanthropist Richard Wallace, these dark green fountains provided clean drinking water to Parisians following the devastation of the city during the Franco-Prussian War (1870).

Below: A Wallace Fountain with the monumental Fontaine Saint-Sulpice looming in the background.

Wallace Fountain, at Place St-Sulpice (1872) (6e)

In recent years, the commonplace green has been updated. Below, a canary yellow Wallace Fountain offers a drink on the campus of Diderot University

Nancy Rubins’ Monochrome for Paris, made of canoes, explodes in the background.

Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet (13e)

A periwinkle blue Wallace Fountain:


Delacroix Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg

Jules Dalou, Delacroix Fountain (installed 1890) (6e)

Fountain across from Mosquée de Paris

Below, the pretty Hispano-Moresque fountain of mosaic tiles and marble sounds a sympathetic vibration with the Mosquée de Paris across the street.

Place du Puits-de-l’Ermite (1928) (5e)

A waterfall from the 1937 Paris Exposition

The monumental waterfall below survives from the 1937 Paris Exposition. Parc Kellermann was later created around it.


At the bottom of the waterfall, I looked up and saw a man standing tall on the parapet above. I snapped the photo, he grinned, and I smiled back. It was a moment of comradery.

The waterfall, however, hasn’t aged well.

Fontaine Souham

Like a cool drink of water, the Fontaine Souham with its shiny steel half-spheres beckons the passerby.

Sculptor: Alberto Guzmán, Fontaine Souham (1983). Jardin de la Place Souham (13e)

Fontaine Stravinsky

Niki de Saint Phalle’s colourful Death and Firebird sharply contrast with Jean Tinguely’s black metal contraptions in celebrated Fontaine Stravinsky. The water-spouting sculptures are motorized.

Fontaine Stravinsky (1983), next to Centre Pompido (4e)

Stravinsky Fountain and the Columns of Buren were both part of a 1980s public art initiative by the City of Paris.

Ice floes buckling at Place du Québec

The sidewalk at Place du Québec erupts to reveal an underground fountain. The artist intended the work to represent the springtime breakup of ice sheets on St. Lawrence River.

Québecois artist Charles Daudelin, Embâcle (1984) (6e)

The fountain of Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune

Forlorn, dry, and surrounded by overgrown weeds and artless graffiti, the little fountain of Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune has seen better days. Fountain and park are slated for renovation in 2020.

Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune (1986), Boulevard Brune (14e)

Maillol Fountain

This sadly playful (playfully sad?) mosaic fountain is dedicated to French sculptor Maillol. It deteriorates at its location along Passage Aristide Maillol. Like the fountain of Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune, it needs some TLC.

Michel de Sablet, Maillol Fountain (1984); off Rue Falguière (15e)

A leaf for James Joyce

Leaf-shaped drinking fountain in Square James Joyce:

(1998) (13e)

I’m not sure whether the tonic leaf is associated with Joyce, but the following passage from Finnegans Wake could make it so:

My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I’ll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff!

“Rubin’s vase” fountain, Place de la Garenne

In 2000, the Paris water management company sponsored a competition for the design of new public drinking fountains to be called “Millennial Fountains.” The winning fountain below is based on the idea of an optical illusion called “Rubin’s vase,” in which the viewer alternately sees either a vase or two faces in profile.


The use of the female form for this public water source resonates with the caryatids of the Wallace Fountains.

The salamanders of the Bièvre River

Lovable Salamanders of the Bièvre inhabit parks that generally follow the course of the now-subterranean river. The one below is located in Square Paul Grimault.

Véronique Vaster, Salamander of the Bièvre (2013) (13e)

Potable salamander spit:

Next: Old Friends at Père Lachaise Cemetery

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: A Museum of Memento Mori in Montparnasse Cemetery

A Museum of Memento Mori in Montparnasse Cemetery

Poets & philosophers

Baudelaire’s cenotaph

Twenty-five years after the death of Charles Baudelaire, the literati of Paris decided in 1892 to erect a cenotaph dedicated to the poète maudit.

Rodin was commissioned to sculpt the monument, but he only got as far as the head of Baudelaire before funding lagged. Rodin would later state:

What’s a statue, in fact? A body, arms and legs covered in ordinary clothes? What use are they to Baudelaire, who lived only through his mind? His head is all that matters.

Enter José de Charmoy, a relatively unknown French sculptor. Having already designed a sculpture dedicated to the poet, Charmoy offered it to the committee. His cenotaph now stands at the end of a path, against a wall.

Cenotaph of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

More than just a head, Charmoy’s monument to the poète maudit consists of three figures. A shrouded corpse lies rigid and insensate:

An elongated, skeletal bat clings to the vertical monolith. So Baudelaire.

And at the pinnacle, a square-jawed thinker leans forward, chin on fists, sunken eyes gazing into nothingness with acute . . . ennui.

A lifesaver for Robert Desnos

Poet Robert Desnos, an active member of the French Resistance, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. After being sent to three different Nazi concentration camps, he ended up in Theresienstadt, a camp in occupied Czechoslovakia. He died of typhoid at age 44, a month after the camp was liberated.

At the end of one of his poems, Desnos writes:

You’ll put a life saver on my grave. Because one never knows.

His devotees have obliged.

Robert Desnos (1900-1945)

A mailbox for Cioran

On the grave of Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran sits a mailbox. When I was there, several messages had been deposited.

Emile Cioran (1911-1995)

To conceive the act of thought as a poison bath, the pastime of an elegiac viper.

Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations

Parma violets for Tristan Tzara

Has Dada ever spoke to you about Parma violets


Tristan Tzara (1896-1963)

Here we are dropping our anchor in fertile ground.

“Life is a gift that is lost . . .”

La vie est un don perdu pour celui qui ne l’a pas vécu comme il aurait voulu.

Life is a gift that is lost to those who haven’t lived the way they would have liked.

This adage by 19th-century Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu has a whiff of impossibility. Can a person really arrive at the end of life and have no regrets? It would require predicting what the future you would deem to have been a squandered gift of life.

But loosely interpreted as a memento mori — follow your passions before it’s too late — I can live with that.

Le Musée Montparnasse

The Enlightened Centaur

I first met Baldaccini’s iconic Centaur at a busy intersection in Paris. Baldaccini used scrap metal to create the bricolaged man-horse.

The Centaur by César Baldaccini (1921-1998), at Place Michel-Debré (6e)

Yes, garden tools and a violin scroll protrude from the centaur’s anus. Even so, he radiates extraordinary dignity. His front leg and arm are poised as if he were about to impart reason.

Perhaps this centaur is more related to the Houyhnhnms, the tribe of intelligent horses in Gulliver’s Travels, than to the concupiscent man-beasts of ancient Greek myth.

The same sculpture poses on the grave of Baldaccini:

The Pilgrim by Baltasar Lobo

Le Pèlerin is exhibited on the tomb of its creator, Spanish-French artist Baltasar Lobo.

Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993)

The Prophet

On the grave of Polish-French artist Léopold Kretz stands his sculpture Le prophète:

Léopold Kretz (1907-1990), Le prophète

Images of women

Alien Venus

Philippe Hiquily was a sculptor whose wide-hipped female forms de-emphasizing limbs and heads recall prehistoric Venus sculptures, which magnify childbearing potential. Hiquily sometimes gives his metallic women spindly limbs and oddly shaped heads, lending an insectile humour to their provocative eroticism.

Here lies one such enigma, in her otherworldly glory, on Hiquily’s tomb:

Philippe Hiquily (1925-2013)

Some hybrids & metamorphoses

Fish boobs? Huh?
Alex Berdal (b. 1945), Poisson Sirène

The secret of the bronze Fish Siren? The breasts on one side.

Inscription on the other side of the female fish:

Il fait son choix d’anchois et dine d’une sardine.
Essentially, if less elegantly: He ordered anchovy but ate sardine.

Mystery pelican

On the grave of painter Gérard Barthélémy stands a bushy pelican that seems to be morphing into a plant.

Pelican by Denis Mondineu (1942-2019) on the grave of Gérard Barthélémy (1938-2002)

The pelican emerges from a tree stump; its legs and toes resemble the roots:

The pelican’s feathers appear like leaves:

And the pelican’s body sprouts flora:

Perhaps an Ovidian metamorphosis is happening?

A bejeweled turtle for Huysmans

Novelist Karl-Joris Huysmans turned Zola’s naturalism on its head in À rebours, the novel championed by a generation of writers embracing Decadence as an aesthetic.

The connoisseur Des Esseintes, in his mania to fashion ever-refined sensory experiences, decides that he needs a living creature moving about an oriental carpet in order to set off its colours and texture. He purchases a turtle, whose shell he plates in gold and encrusts with precious stones.

Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907)

However, the embedded jewels weigh down the animal until it expires. The doomed turtle is one of the most arresting images from Huysmans’ novel — a sort of Faustian demise by proxy.

A Porcelain Cat for Ricardo Menon

Sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle created a colourful cat for the grave of her close friend Ricardo Menon, who died of AIDS in 1989.

Inscription: “For our close friend Ricardo, who died too soon, young, loved, and handsome. 10 June 1952 – 21 Sept 1989”

Aside: Another work in Paris by Niki de Saint Phalle is the Stravinsky Fountain at Centre Pompidou (with co-creator Jean Tinguely). Below is her fantastical Firebird from that fountain:

A delicate mantid

The shiny blue-and-red creature by Agathon suggests a praying mantis’ delicate structure and pose.

Sculpture by Agathon (b. 1979) on the grave of Ginette Cohen Salmon née Olek (1943-1997)

Agathon’s sculpture, with its bright colours and fantastical shape, recalls the sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle.


Stained glass & mosaics

A medievalist in the Belle Époque

Bellery-Henri Desfontaines was a decorative artist of the late 19th century. As the mosaic on his tombstone suggests, he embraced the Belle Époque interest in Medieval art and tapestry.

Bellery-Henri Desfontaines (1867-1909)
Simple blue stars — unpretentiously notable . . .
Tomb of Théodore Dauphin (1848-1917)


The intriguing sculpture on this Jewish-Christian tomb is the opposite of simple:

Perhaps the numbers, counting down from 12 to 1 and starting over at 12, represent a clock or sundial?

A planet for Urbain le Verrier

French astronomer and mathematician Urbain le Verrier specialized in the motions of bodies in outer space. Using only mathematics, he played a key role in predicting the existence and position of Neptune.

Urbain Le Verrier (1811-1877)

An ammonite for Caillois

I assumed (incorrectly) that a scientist was buried at a tombstone embedded with an ammonite fossil:

Roger Caillois (1913-1978)

The grave is unmarked, but a bit of research reveals that it belongs to Roger Caillois, a sociologist and literary critic who wrote classic works on the sociology of the sacred and of play. Good to know. But why the ammonite?

Caillois was fascinated by mineralogy, and in The Writing of Stones he speaks of precious stones and fossils with an odd mixture of poetry and science. He views the patterns created by fossils inside stones as if they were inscriptions in the book of evolution:

“Meanwhile, the tree of life goes on putting out branches. A multitude of new inscriptions is added to the writing in stones. Images of fishes swim among dendrites of manganese as though among clumps of moss. A sea lily sways on its stem in the heart of a piece of slate. A phantom shrimp can no longer feel the air with its broken antennae. The scrolls and laces of ferns are imprinted in coal. Ammonites of all sizes, from a lentil to a millwheel, flaunt their cosmic spirals everywhere.”

from L’écriture des pierres, tr. Barbara Bray

A curious episode in the history of 20th-century poetry involves a debate between Caillois and chief Surrealist André Breton about the inner workings of the Mexican jumping bean. Caillois, whose poetic prose reflects on the patterns and colours inside jasper and petrified wood, proposed cutting open the “bean” to understand it. Breton, however, adamantly preferred to keep the object intact and to delve into its mystery solely through the power of his imagination.

Such are the debates of poets. The upshot? Breton excommunicated Caillois from his (very) exclusive club of Surrealists. Caillois is in good company in Montparnasse Cemetery — other poets ejected from Breton’s club include Robert Desnos and Tristan Tzara.

Just a couple more tombstones before the guard walks through the cemetery ringing his bell to signal the closing of the gates . . .

Famille Crestinu

Keep smiling . . .

De notre sourire gardez le souvenir. Souriez-vous pour nous!
Remember our smile, and smile for us!

Next: Romanizing the Parisii

Camille Martin