Designed by Louis Visconti (1791-1853) with sculptures by Jean-Baptiste-Jules Klagmann (1810-67) this fountain was erected in 1839 on the site of the former opera which had been closed and demolished following the assassination of the Duc de Berry in 1820. Haussmann redesigned the area in 1859, when the square was opened up into a public garden with the fountain as a centrepiece. The four female figures represent the four major French rivers, Seine, Saone, Garonne and Loire and the pedestal of the basin beneath them is also decorated, with sculpted dolphins and tritons.
The fountain now stands in the little square opposite the entrance to the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Girault de Prangey appears to have photographed only two fountains in his native France. The other was the fountain of the Chateau d'Eau in Paris, which he photographed when it was frozen in winter (see May 2003 catalogue, lot 1). This daguerreotype was also made in winter and there is a sense of time passing as the long exposure slows the fine jets of water and lingers over the small pools where they hit the still water in the lower basin. The image has an overall delicacy and intimacy that is helped by the softening effects of a shallow range of focus. Even the dark branches of the recently planted trees blur a little, smoothing their harshness as they emerge from the dark edges of the plate.
This appears to be the only daguerreotype of this subject in the archive.