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Edinburgh World Heritage/Projects/Restoring a fountain’s youth

Restoring a fountain’s youth


22nd March 2018

Edinburgh World Heritage

Last summer, the mermaids of Ross Fountain took flight over Princes Street Gardens and were carefully lifted away as part of the conservation project we are supporting.

All 122 pieces of the landmark sculpture were dismantled and carefully transported to a workshop in Wigan, where they are being restored to their former glory.

Sculpted by artist Jean-Baptiste Jules Klagmann and produced at the iron foundry of Antoine Durenne in Sommevoire, France, the cast-iron fountain includes cherubs, mermaids, walrus and lion heads and four female figures representing science, arts, poetry and industry (part of the repair work has been restoring the instruments in their hand, like the paintbrush seen here).

It was local gun maker, Daniel Ross, who saw the fountain in London at the Great Exhibition of 1862 and gave it to Edinburgh. However, others were less impressed – Dean Ramsay described it as “Grossly indecent and disgusting; insulting and offensive to the moral feelings of the community and disgraceful to the City.”

This week we saw the lower parts and the buttresses returned to their old location, passers-by will see it slowly taking shape over the next few months as the pieces are returned.

Edinburgh World Heritage has helped to fund the work, commissioned by the Ross Development Trust and undertaken by conservation specialists Lost Art. Care has been taken to ensure the proper materials have been used on the cast-iron structure, and the new colour scheme more closely matches that of other French fountains from the same period.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convenor for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “As the city’s biggest and certainly most beautiful fountain, this restoration has been a major undertaking. Each piece has been carefully conserved to bring the fountain back to its former glory and it is now well on its way to being reinstated. The Ross Fountain really is one of the most recognisable features of the Gardens and already you can see the restored structure is going to look fantastic. We’re very thankful to the Ross Development Trust for all of their support.”

Fiona MacDonald, Conservation Architect at Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “Princes Street Gardens serves as an important link between the Old Town and the New Town within Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. Ensuring the Ross Fountain is expertly conserved using the proper materials is essential to this project. Having helped to fund numerous monuments and sculptures across the city, we are happy to support the work taking place here, and look forward to seeing the fountain rightfully restored, taking pride of place once again in Princes Street Gardens. This unique, ornamental cast-iron fountain was gifted to the city and remains a much-loved landmark.”

Referring to the new colour scheme. Jim Mitchell, restoration project manager said: “Research has eliminated any real clues to the original colour but we believe it had originally undergone a process called bronzing. It is now accepted that this mix of linseed oil and bronze powders was short lived; first tarnishing then failing, leaving a dark rust coloured finish; more by default than design.

“However, in homage to that bronze finish we have aimed to create a verdigris bronze effect, in the French style of the time, when there was a transition from bronze to cast iron in public monuments. This effect was first used on a number of French fountains, which have recently been restored in the same manner.”

“Our fountain uses a colour that suggests the subtle verdigris effect of bronze; less green than copper. The detailing suggests the ‘polished’ effect on worn surfaces. The gold detailing pays homage to the colour the fountain took on in recent years and the brown on the skin tones and other animal-like parts, suggests newly patinated parts, treated traditionally with liver of sulphur.”

The fountain will be completed by the summer.

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