La Femme Gris

La Femme Gris 1

So this past April I went to Paris to run a marathon and visit some family. Some of you may have seen pictures from the streets of Paris; there is artwork in just about everything. There are also many grand water fountains in some of the bigger square around Paris. I had stopped in an area known as Le Fountaine Saint-Michel which gained fame during the French Revolution.  As I walked around taking in the sights and sounds I happened upon a drinking fountain that looked out of the ordinary.

The odd shape was the first thing that caught my eye and the grating at the base gave away the fact that it was a drinking fountain but not an ordinary one. The curves at the base swept up toward the spout and the curves above the spout were all parallel to the ground, so at first glance I thought it was a corkscrew type of shape. The color is flat grey and closely matches the ground. As I went around the fountain, the actual outline appeared, it was a woman with a spout of water coming from her extended hand. As the outline sweeps around it transforms from what looks to be a woman just standing in a square people watching, to someone offering every passerby a fresh drink of water. The lines around the top are the portrait of a face which seems to be looking back and forth at the people walking around and meeting, taking pictures, or just sightseeing. I know nothing about the artist and I wish I had taken a picture of the other profile so that I could show the shape change more completely.

The thing I liked the most was, that in a city brimming with classical forms of art and a famous fountain just across the street this modern piece seemed stand out even though it blended in with the surrounding sidewalk. It offered up a drink to all without question as to who they are, where they are from, what their beliefs or politics are, what their gender or age is, as Paris is full of tourist from all over the world. I know nothing of the artist nor have I seen any pieces in class that are similar to this one. There was nothing about this piece that I did not like but, there was a trash bin just a few meters away from it that did distract the eye, but that is typical of Paris.

La Femme Gris 2

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  • Why the color grey?
  • Is the way the spout rises up from the main body a symbol of offering.
  • Why just a 90 degree rotation?

John Lopez


24 thoughts on “La Femme Gris

  1. I actually believe that when they crafted this model was to show thier modern technology. Why make a simple water fountain when you can be creative and have fun with it that’s probably why they made it into a woman offering drink for the bystanders. For me personally I think that this was a great piece to choose, you don’t see something like that on a daily basis and it is so out of the ordinary you don’t really seem to notice that especially in the streets of Chicago but coming from the fact that it’s Paris *french accent* oh la la anything could happen. once certain people passes this they don’t stop and stare at the color personally I think they stop and stare at the odd looking shape then noticed that the color matches the ground. They would have the interest to actually come forward a little closer to realize it’s figure is of a woman I believe they chose the color to match the crown to attract more people so that they would notice the figure of the woman.
    Great design and props for you to take the time to notice and appreciate it. 🙂

  2. I also believe that the color grey was chosen to attract more bystanders. I can’t really imagine it being another color such as red or yellow. It just wouldn’t have the same effect as the artist imagined it to have. It does seem as though it is offering the people fresh water but in a place like Paris the people aren’t really in need of it. If it were in like Africa then the purpose of the offering woman would be clear and appropriate. The 90 degree rotation is probably just to exploit some new technology. Nonetheless it’s pretty cool and definitely worth appreciating.

  3. My first thought upon seeing Le Femme Gris was, “This is Paris and even a water fountain has to look good!” Upon further research, there are aesthetic reasons behind the design. Paris is steeped in deep aesthetics and not exclusive to fashion, though it is home to Fashion Week and trend setting, where the models and good looking people seem to live. Paris is home to so many artworks and beautiful parks, such as Jardin du Luxembourg. Even the structures that house art are works of art in themselves – the exterior of the Louvre Museum is quite a visual structure to examine in itself, and of course there are so many tourist places like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles Palace and the Arc De Triomphe, all works of art in and of themselves. It is so interesting to see that the aesthetics of a cool looking water fountain are blended into the city’s stunning landscape and scenery. This type of art fountain also keeps in the tradition of providing comfort to anyone passing by that was founded by Sir Richard Wallace in the rebuilding of Paris. “Not only did the fountains accomplish Wallace’s philosophy of lending a hand to those in need but they also serve to beautify Paris.” (Wikipedia) And no, I’ve never been to Paris, but I will get there someday!

  4. I hate to be the party pooper but most likely the color gray was used for some reason as unimaginative as it was what was available or it was the most cost effective. The design of the fountain is interesting and seems to carry the message of the neighborhood being a welcoming place open to tourists many of whom are foreigners. The choice to use the water fountains to say this is probably linked to fountains being a major neighborhood attraction, and they do add a modern take on a water fountain.

    So, how did you like running a marathon in Paris? How did the experience differ from that in the US?

    • Thank you Matthew,
      You could be correct about the color as the French are very practical people. As to the marathon. First off every runner needs to have a signed doctors statement attesting that this runner is physically able to compete in the event. They want to be sure that if a runner falls over dead the organizers will not be held liable. In other words ,” It’s your own fault if you die running a marathon.” At several places along the course I noticed that wine was being served to anyone that wanted some which is nice if that is your flavor. Sports drink such as Gatorade is NOT served any where at all. The vibe I got was, “We are trying to keep the cost of this race down.” If you need to have this type of drink carry it with you. So as I pass through the aide station there are bananas, raisins by the pound, sugar cubes and bottled water. As I am a back of the packer there were a number of locals that were riding their bikes, skating and just strolling on the course after mile 21. They seemed to be of the spirit ,” Hey we get to stroll in the streets and no car traffic. Voila.”
      If you ever get the chance to go and run this marathon make sure you have enough basic French to get around and ask simple questions it will make a world of difference in how people respond to you. Whenever you speak to someone ALWAYS start with Bonjour, as it is just good manners. At least try to speak their language. I hope that answers your question. If you’d like to talk more we can hang out after class.
      Bon Chance,

  5. I think the use of the color grey is maybe to keep the idea of the piece a little hidden, mysterious, and unknown. I’m sure not everyone notices the art as they walk by. The use of grey might also be an invitation, for the people who do notice, to let their minds do the coloring. Very interesting post! Paris is definitely one of the places on my list to visit.

  6. Continuing my theme–I wish I could see this in person! I’m reading this as a take on the hustle and bustle of being in a big city. The top photograph almost seems to look what you would see driving past a person really fast–and it think it’s significant that it’s the side facing the street. I love the “offering” aspect of a figure of a person quenching the thirsty public. It seems like pedestrians in Paris may be thirsty for water and art and are getting both in this piece. Were people actually drinking from it?

    • Yes they were. I saw several people stop and take a sip as I did myself, and the water tasted very good too. There were other fountains that had spigots down low so that people could give their dogs a drink of water.

  7. The fine detail that is portrayed in all of these are unique to themselves. My take on why the grey is to not distract drivers. To make it more of a color that is calming as well for the people passing by. Art around big cities also creates this atmosphere for people to take the time out of there day and enjoy something other than there walking even if it is for just a few seconds.

  8. This piece reminds me of a chess piece from one side we see an abstract symbol of what is really a women on the the other. Like when we play chess the king, queen and other pieces are just abstract representations of what they are. This piece may show us both.

  9. I think it is gray so that it doesn’t stand out. People rarely walk by huge statues in art museums, and they often get all the art fame. I think the artist wanted most people to walk by it, because the people who actually stop and see it and appreciate it make it more special. Originally it might look like an ordinary water fountain, but there is more than meets the eye here.

  10. By just looking at this piece of art from the side, I would have never known it was a women. I most likely wouldn’t have known ever i was looking at the shape. Maybe the piece wasn’t intended to be grey? Maybe it was painted a different color and through out the years has faded to grey. I think that it is a symbol of offering since it is a women. Maybe there a story that goes along with it?

  11. Maybe the lady just represents Paris and Paris want to offer you water to be comfortable and stay awhile. I think its gray because any other color might stick out to much and they might not want people thinking about the color as much as the shape.

  12. First off, I’ve always wanted to go to Paris!!!! So lucky you.
    Second, I believe that the whole idea of a woman offering water was giving the feeling of being calm and welcomed to those that would walk by the fountain. Paris (to me) is one of those places that is known for their artwork, romantic atmosphere, certain famous buildings and good food. For them to make a drinking fountain to be functional as well as something to appreciate than take for granted is very…comforting to me. It makes me feel like its a joy to walk through the city than to just walk from point A to point B.
    A side note on that, I also believe the grey that was chosen was so that it kept a sort of artistically calm atmosphere around the city and wouldn’t be such a “loud” piece. It becomes a piece of art that is a nice extra to the rest of what people may be sightseeing and compliments the city around so to speak.

  13. Paris seems like such a beautiful place. I hope I will be lucky enough to visit there someday.

    Anyway, very interesting post John. When I initially looked at the picture, I had no idea what I was looking at exactly. Even from the second picture, I was kind of confused until I read into your post. If I was strolling through the streets of Paris, I probably would have never noticed it.

    Maybe, that’s why it is gray. I’m thinking, it’s not meant to pop out at you like other artwork does. It’s sort of like a hidden gem within city. We often walk obviously past art every day in our lives. This is a reminder that art is truly everywhere, we just have to examine things more closely.

  14. For me when I see this i think of the silhouette of the cowboy with his hat tipped down that a lot of people often set on the side of their house. This piece is very interesting because its not often you have a 3-dimensional piece of art that takes on two shapes. You see this more with 2-dimentsional or 1-dimensional pictures where it can either be a butterfly or like a guy eating a sandwich or something. If i were walking past this fountain i would definitely take a drink from it; unless it was at night because approaching this piece in the dark might be a little creepy.

  15. I think that the artist may have made this fountain grey so it doesn’t stand out, so that if you see it you have to take a closer look to see what it is. It would make you stop and enjoy the work he or she has done.

  16. I agree with what Matt Camp said about the use of the color grey. I think they might have used it because they hand that on hand, it was cost effective, or they choose the material to withstand the weather rather than for artistic reasons. I think they might have made the profile of the fountains so you see the woman objectively and not as a specific person.

  17. From my opinion I think the color grey was chosen no to stand out and make people think why such a creative statue has an opaque color. Paris is very well know for a lot of things, the city of love, but most importantly for its tourist. Probably the piece is just welcoming the guest.

  18. This is very interesting and different. I really liked the idea of having water fountains of different shapes i have never seen one like this. Yes, i agree the position of spout as you stated does look like it is offering. I heard that color grey usually symbolizes reliability, modesty, old age etc.

  19. I believe the artist chose tge color grey because the shape of the ovject itself would attract bystanders in itself. It isn’t calling for attention, it gets it without asking. I do like how it symbolizes offering to the tourists, I believe it’s symbolism since there is so many things Paris has to offer in itself. The fact that one must conpletely walk all the way around to see the complete piece of art makes it so much more than just a water fountain, I love it!

  20. Interesting, and wonderful works of art. I have always been fascinated with European sculptures and designs of their buildings. I feel as if he color gray is a bit bland when it comes to these, but maybe it’s to be simple.

  21. What a cool piece of art. Not only does this dance on the line between form & function, but it also is an interesting take on perspective. If you are just passing by it on the street it might just look like an abstract statue. However, when you change your perspective a bit and look at it from a different angle, it becomes a profile of a woman. Maybe the grey helps it be more nondescript so it can shape shirft depending on your angle….or maybe the grey was the color of the concrete they used. Either way it is a very unique piece.

  22. This is a fabulous pieces of art in my opinion. This is an extremely innovative way of creating water fountains that people can actually drink from. From this picture I would say that this piece of art would make drinking water more entertaining especially for kids. I think gray was the perfect color to pick because it blends in with the city and plus if it ever gets dirty it will not look as bad. I also think that it sends a significant message to people that the fountain is a woman rather than a man. The women in most societies are look at as caretakers and nurturers and I think this piece of art displays that.

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