This unusual fountain is intended to evoke the emotional and sometimes strange music of Igor Stravinsky. In addition to the expected treble clef, a clown’s bowler hat, a pair of red lips, and a mermaid with water squirting out of her breasts are some of the fountain’s figures inspired by the most influential classical music of the 20th century.
This is the work of sculptor Jean Tinguely and painter Niki de Saint Phalle. Tinguely’s works are typically in a Dadaist style—intricate machine-like structures painted shining industrial black. Saint Phalle’s works, on the other hand, are primitive and bright. The combination of these two styles makes the fountain appear whimsical and disorderly.
According to Tinguely, the “circus-like” chaos of the fountain is intended to evoke Stravinsky’s encounters with jazz. Additionally, the artists asked that the water be left untreated and that moss be allowed to grow on the fountain so that nature could contribute to the work.
It wasn’t without controversy though. When it was unveiled in 1983 some found the primary colors and abstract shapes gaudy and at odds with the refinement of classical music. The fountain remains one of the most photographed attractions in the neighborhood though.
The artists did not want the fountain to overwhelm the already eye-catching Centre Pompidou. The fountain is low to the ground and approachable, with low-powered motors in the waterworks so that visitors can wade in the water on hot days.