« The little mermaid », Sumptuous monumental fountain attributed to Rudolf Weyr, Vienna, circa 1890-95

Carrara marble, Statuary marble.

Height : 315 cm / 124” ; Width : 188 cm / 74” ; Depth : 120 cm / 47” 1/4.

Vienna, circa 1890-1895.

Sheltering a small mermaid, this fountain is a work of rare beauty. Indeed, the virtuosity of the sculptures added to a great sense of harmony, is here at the service of a work full of charm and poetry.
Decorated with panels and scrolls, this fountain is carved with extreme finesse in Carrara marble veined with a light gray. The sides are adorned with graceful bells. Its general form, with its curves falling in small scrolls, reproduces the movement of the water.

At the summit, water springs from the mouth of an old man crowned with water lilies: a river-god whose age contrasts with the freshness of the siren.
A large shell, whose marine sediments are beautifully reproduced, serves as first basin where water is collected before flowing in a curtain all around the mermaid. Thus, once in operation, this fountain exudes all the more charm.

Originating from Vienna, this sumptuous fountain was made around 1890-1895. Undoubtedly the work of an important artist, its origin thus tends to designate the great sculptor Rudolf Weyr, master of Neo-Baroque style, and amateur of Germanic folklore.

A mermaid of the Danube

The mermaid, a nymph of fresh waterways, comes precisely from the Germanic legends, where it is known to feed the fountains. That is why small coins are thrown into offerings, so that the water never dries up. Represented in the form of a young girl, the mermaid takes the form of the Scandinavian siren, fish-tailed, during the nineteenth century.

A pillar of German culture, Henrich Heine helped to anchor the importance of the mermaid Lorelei in the national folklore, with a famous poem from 1824. She was a mermaid of the Danube, the river that precisely flows through the city of Vienna.

Heine was one of the rare supporters of Danish Christian Andersen for his tale The Little Mermaid (1837), which initially met no success in his country of origin. Thus, the image of a child-sized, fish-tailed mermaid has been first popularized in the German-speaking countries during the nineteenth century, to enrich the imagination of the artists.

John William Waterhouse, A Mermaid, 1900,
Royal Academy of Arts, London.

The small siren of our fountain is protected by the river-god that shelters her under a waterfall. The latter, with his craggy features, singularly reminds the face of a fountain in Hermes Villa of Vienna, a property offered by Franz Joseph I to Empress Sissi. More than a mere resemblance, the baggy eyes under arcades furnished with thick eyebrows, the nose, the cheeks, and the foliages crown indicate an unequivocal relationship. It is a face sculpted by Rudolf Weyr, to whom we can thus attribute our mermaid fountain, especially as other indications can confirm it.
To the left, head of the river-god, Marc Maison Gallery.
To the right, « Neptune » Fountain, Hermes Villa, Vienna. River-god sculpted by Rudolf Weyr.

At the Hermes Villa, Rudolf Weyr puts a toad on the head of his divinity, and sculpts the lower face in the form of palms; While on our fountain he is wearing two flowers, and his beard mingles with the water-lilies. Thus, the two faces are thought in the same way, the same expressive features being capped with thick strands in disorder, crowned with laurels and invaded by the aquatic fauna and flora.

Portrait of Rudolf Weyr, by A. Dauthage

Rudolf Weyr, a virtuoso sculptor

Since 1873, Vienna has been a fertile ground for the arts, a splendid capital that treats its best artists. Revelation of the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873, Rudolf Weyr will be part of them, entrusted with the full-length statue of Franz Joseph I in 1898. His career took off in 1884, when the Empress Sissi gave him part of the decoration of Hermes Villa; He was then solicited by the Imperial couple for public commissions.

His most famous work is undoubtedly Die Mach zur See (“The Power on Sea”), a magnificent fountain from 1894 which adorns the imperial palace of Hofburg. The group represents an allegory taming the sea monsters and the tumult of the waves, with the support of the god Neptune.

Die Macht zur See, 1894, monumental fountain by Rudolf Weyr, north front of Hofburg Palace, Vienna.
The fountain of Hofburg Palace allows us to admire the virtuosity of Rudolf Weyr in the treatment of the flesh, able to make us feel the tension of the muscles just like the flexibility of the fins. It is an equal virtuosity that the Mermaid fountain has required, the graceful body of the little girl imperceptibly transforming into two fish tails.

Detail of Neptune, "Die Macht zur See" fountain, 1894,
Hofburg Palace, Vienna.
Young mermaid, fountain attributed to Rudolf Weyr,
Galerie Marc Maison.

The quality of sculpture is not the sole cause of this attribution. Indeed, the realism of Weyr is also special: instead of carving a Neptune in the prime of life, with a flattering body, he does not hesitate to accentuate his old age, the realistic details of protruding bones under a thin and wrinkled skin. This detail also abounds to designate Rudolf Weyr as the bust of the child, instead of being perfectly idealized, is also shown in its truth, with puny shoulders slightly, prominent ribs and bend over belly. In a 19th-century artist, the representation of such realistic details for mythological figures is a particular and distinctive choice.

Neptune, with a crown of laurels, can also be compared to the river-god, with his craggy features and his prominent cheekbones. His crown is also the same that adorns the head of the mermaid. Thus, our mermaid fountain not only corresponds to Rudolf Weyr’s date and place of activity, but also to his style and the quality of his sculpture. It should also be noted that it still corresponds to its favorite themes, the sculptor having manifested his taste for Germanic folklore.

The career of Rudolf Weyr is indeed punctuated by works referring to folklore. Associated with the project of Nueue Burg, built between 1895 and 1901, Rudolf Weyr is in charge of realizing one of the statues representing the Austro-Hungarian History. The latter, choosing to represent a Magyar warrior, wearing picturesque mats, already shows his inclination for Germanic legends.

Later, in the early twentieth century, also puts a belt adorned with Merovingian interlacing in the statue of painter Hans Canon he erects at Stadtpark in his memory. Later, he carved a bas-relief on St. Peter's Church in Vienna, representing the legend that the church was founded by Charlemagne. Here again, Weyr pays special attention to his characters wearing winged helmets, mats and thick mustaches.

Rudolf Weyr, "Magyar", 1895-1901, Neue Burg, Vienne.

A Viennese fountain of late 19th century

The fountain that we present, of a breathtaking beauty, is an exceptional work from the late nineteenth century Vienna. The capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has indeed become an epicenter of art, competing with Paris in the last quarter of the century. The Neo-Baroque style is at its peak, and its fantastic spirit fuels the imagination of artists like Gustave Klimt, who turn to symbolism. In this artistic effervescence, the city of Vienna is embellished with more and more fountains.
In fact, Vienna is fed with spring water, descending directly from the Alps. Today it has nearly 900 drinking water fountains, and 54 monumental fountains made by the best artists. One of the most admired is the Shell Fountain, located at the Belvedere Palace, a baroque palace completed in 1723. Tritons with fish tails support a large shell very similar to that one used as a basin in our fountain.

Shell Fountain from Belvedere Palace, Vienna, circa 1723.

This beautiful shell inspired the creation of a wall fountain at the Rothschild Bourgoin Palace in 1891. It is a fine example of a wall fountain made for an important private sponsor, which shows by comparison the level at which raises the Mermaid Fountain.
Die Mach zur See was born in a context where fountains multiply in Vienna; Thus, the angle fountain we present is, in all likelihood, a private command that follows this trend. Rudolf Weyr showed his talent in the sculpture of the sea chimeras in 1894, a Viennese sponsor was able to appeal to his talents for this graceful mermaid.

This rare fountain is exhibited in our showroom in Saint-Ouen, by appointment. You can reach us by phone:
+33 (0)6 60 62 61 90.

Wall fountain at Rothschild Bourgoing Palace, 1891, Vienna.

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