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The iron fountains of the 19th century Lisbon are a fascinating subject not only for the beauty of its object of study, but also for the fact that information about its origin and authorship is not easily available.
This approach requires us, therefore, to take a particularly careful look, seeking to uncover similarities between other identical specimens spread all over the world.
Fountains of Lisbon
There are countless fountains that we can observe in Lisbon. In many of the city’s gardens we find fountains with stone tanks of different sizes and periods, some with associated sculptural elements that deserve to be highlighted.
These are the cases, among others, of the exuberant 18th century fountains in Ajuda Botanical Garden or in Necessidades Garden, as well as of the representations of the Tagus and Douro rivers, heirs of the Public Promenade, present in the cascades of Liberdade Avenue, which we’ve already covered in other articles.
From the 20th century, the monumental fountains of Alameda Afonso Henriques or Império Square are unavoidable; the monument to the 25th of April by the sculptor João Cutileiro, located at the top of Eduardo VII Park; or the multiple creations in which water plays a leading role in Parque das Nações.
All these and many others deserve our attention and reflection, but this article is dedicated in particular to the iron fountains of the 19th century Lisbon with French aesthetics that came to refresh this expanding city.
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Functionality and Origin of the Fountains
Fountains have existed for millennia and have always had two functions. We can say that the main one is to refresh the environment not only by the presence of sprayed water contained in the tank but also by the crystalline sound it emits.
No less important is its decorative character, evident from the simple fountains in the courtyards of Roman villas, to the monumental fountains, from all eras, which we can admire in countless squares in large cities and which often constitute its symbol.
These are often associated not only with the magnificent illusionistic effects, more or less complex, produced by water, but also with sculptural elements from different materials. The Baroque examples with cascades, which serve this aesthetic, monumental and scenic par excellence, are indisputable.
Traditionally built in stone, fountains gained a new dynamic with the mass production of cast iron parts. Of these, we highlight those produced by French foundries, made available by catalogue, which spread, first to all European capitals and rapidly around the world.
New Needs, New Urban Structures
The 1900s were marked by the 2nd industrial revolution and the consequent expansion and development of cities. New needs, such as street lighting, the enjoyment of green spaces and the embellishment of public spaces, required the creation of equipment and urban furniture.
This new urban organization, pioneered in Paris, then quickly became the model adopted by municipalities in developing cities and by wealthy nobles and bourgeois who enriched their palaces with imported pieces.
The use of cast iron objects manufactured in series was a novelty. This, together with the taste for art, allowed the production of works of great beauty and creativity. Thus, the sculptors were invited to create pieces that were then reproduced in mass, taking the beauty and aesthetics of their works to every corner of the world.
The intrinsically eclectic romantic aesthetic found inspiration in Egyptian, Classical, Gothic, Baroque decorative elements… An iconographic diversity that was reproduced in benches, lamps, drinking fountains, fountains, bandstands, kiosks, advertising structures, urinals, gates, fences, etc.
A Parisian Touch with the Iron Fountains of the 19th Century Lisbon
Lisbon couldn’t have been indifferent to French fashion.
In the last decades of the 1800s, Public Promenade was demolished to give place to Liberdade Avenue, which was built similar to the great Parisian boulevards, enabling the expansion of the city to the north, Avenidas Novas.
At the turn of the century, leading architects such as José Luís Monteiro (1848-1942) or Miguel Ventura Terra (1866-1919) marked the city with the elegant aesthetics acquired during their training in Paris.
During this same period, the Lisbon City Council and some individuals, acquired through catalogue, pieces that are now an integral part of Lisbon’s imaginary.
This was the case of the two monumental fountains in Rossio, the result of the initiative of a city councilor and that of Júlio Andrade, president of the Sociedade Protectora dos Animals (an animal welfare organisation), who imported the first fountain-drinking troughs for people and animals and offered them to the city of Lisbon.
The magnificent cast iron drinking fountain known as “Fonte dos Anjinhos” (Fountain of the Angels), which is also located in Rossio and that the people of Lisbon cherish, is also from the 2nd half of the 19th century.
“Fonte dos Anjinhos”, a Relative of the Famous Wallace Fountain
This piece, also of French origin, was produced by the Durenne/Sommevoire foundry, the main competitor that acquired the one of Val d’Osne in 1931.
“Fonte dos Anjinhos” has formal similarities with the famous Wallace Fountain, symbol of the city of Paris and of which numerous replicas are known across the world. Even in the far east, more precisely in São Francisco Garden in Macau, we can find one.
The Wallace model was conceived and sponsored by English art collector and philanthropist Sir Richard Wallace (1818–1890), who offered it to the population of Paris and other cities, including Rio de Janeiro.
It was sculpted by Charles-Auguste Lebourg (1829-1906), reproduced in the Val d’Osne Foundry and in it are four Caryatids representing Simplicity, Kindness, Charity and Sobriety.
When it comes to our popular “Fonte dos Anjinhos”, in truth, neither caryatids nor angels are represented there, but rather four children, two girls and two boys. However, the term has become generalised and that’s how it remained known for everyone.
The population’s appreciation for this equipment was notorious not long ago, when the piece was removed to undergo a restoration intervention, carried out by the City Council. Worried voices rose, only calming down when the little angels returned freshened up to their usual place.
Small Iron Fountain of São Pedro de Alcântara Garden
The same didn’t happen when, in the 1940s, the second level of São Pedro de Alcântara Garden was repaired.
At that time, the concept of this landscaped space was radically changed and the cast iron urban furniture that existed there was replaced. The benches disappeared, as well as a beautiful iron fountain that seems to have fallen into oblivion by the people of Lisbon.
We don’t know the whereabouts of the decorative benches, but we found the fountain embellishing the discreet Travessa do Patrocínio in Campo de Ourique. It’s missing the top basin but it’s clear that it is the same equipment just by comparing the images.
Out of curiosity, we’ve also included the design of the catalogue where we can see the sculptural set of the three boys, here associated with a basin of a different model.
Purchasing by catalogue made it possible to combine different constituent parts of a piece, according to the customer’s taste and budget, which generated a wide variety of applications. Thus, we’re often surprised by identical pieces that integrate different contexts. Careful observation of these elements gives us clues about their origin and authorship.
Fountain with Lions in Alegria Square
This is the case of the fountain-spring in the Alfredo Keil Garden, in Alegria Square, which was installed during its construction in 1882. It’s a simple fountain with two basins where you can see four lion figureheads from which water flows.
Interestingly, during our research, we realised that these elements are the same as others existing in a fountain of the same type, but sculpturally richer, that exists in Canada, the Lord Strathconna fountain. This one, from 1909, is identified as being by the sculptor Mathurin Moreau (1822-1912) and Val d’Osne. This fact allows us to deduce that our fountain will also have the same origin.
The Lions of the Liberdade Avenue
The same is true in the case of the Lions that we’ve already mentioned in our article The Sculpture of Liberdade Avenue – West.
In addition to having observed that these lions are the same as those that make up the famous fountain in Leões Square in Porto, we must add that, as shown in a photograph of c. of 1912 from the entrance of the foundry in Val d’Osne, one of these pieces was there.
These are strikingly similar to the famous chimeras flanking the Fountain of Saint Michel in Paris by French sculptor Henri Alfred Jacquemart (1924-1896). Could they be from the same artist? We don’t know, but as to their provenance there seems to be no doubt.
Also from the same foundry are the two vases with figureheads that side the lake of the Lions, as they are the same as those existing in the city of Santiago de Chile.
In addition to these 19th-century iron fountains in Lisbon, all of French origin as we have seen, there are two more, larger and more distinctive ones, the monumental fountains of Rossio and the Egyptian fountain in the Torel Garden, which deserved a closer look from us.
Note: Original article published on 1 October 2021.
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