‘Mercury Fountain’, an anti-fascist sculpture

Post date: 18/01/2023

This is an expanded and edited version of a piece which originally appeared in the newsletter of ACER, the IBMT’s French sister organisation, written by Fabienne Reberioux.

From 25 May to 25 November 1937, Paris hosted the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life. For the Spanish Republic’s pavilion, the Republican government called on a number of Spanish artists politicised by the anti-fascist war raging in Spain. Pablo Picasso produced the legendary ‘Guernica’. It showcased and denounced the terror and destruction of the Nazi German and Italian bombing of the Basque city on 26 April 1937.

Calder in front of his work in Paris 1937, with 'Guernica' in the background.

Joan Miró created a large canvas entitled ‘El Segador’ (The Reaper), also known as ‘Catalan peasant in revolt’. It represented the revolutionary aspirations of Catalonian people at the time. The work disappeared mysteriously once the exhibition closed. Julio González created ‘Montserrat’, a sheet iron sculpture of a peasant woman holding a child in one hand and a sickle in the other. Its title referenced the mountain which served as a symbol of González’s native Catalonia.

A non-Spanish artist, the American sculptor Alexander Calder, was also asked to create a piece testifying to the fight against Franco’s fascist war on the Republic. This was a piece titled ‘Mercury Fountain’, a repurposed Spanish marble fountain filled with mercury that poured through a series of sculptures until it reached a mobile labelled ‘Almadén’.1

It served as a tribute to the miners of the town of Almadén who resisted the siege of Franco’s forces. It contained 5,000 kilos of mercury directly transported from those mines to Paris and had the words embedded: ‘Spanish mercury from Almadén’. 

'Mercury Fountain' in the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona.

The original 1937 piece can now be seen at the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona. It was offered in 1975 by the artist in friendship and admiration for Joan Miró. Between 1945 and 1946, Calder made a somewhat smaller version which was exhibited at the Calder Foundation in New York. As part of the recreation of the 1937 Spanish Republic pavilion, the Reina Sofia National Museum of Contemporary Art has made an agreement with the New York institution for this version of the fountain to be installed in Madrid.

For a more detailed analysis of Calder and Miró's pieces at the Spanish Pavilion of 1937, see IBMT Film Coordinator Marshall Mateer's article from 11 February 2017 here.

1 The mercury mines of Almadén are located in the province of Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha. They were mentioned as early as 300 BC by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus. Used for over more than 2,000 years, it was the largest mercury deposit in the world (total production estimated between 250,000 and 300,000 tons, or more than a third of all the mercury produced in the world). The mines closed permanently in 2002.

Posted on 18 January 2023.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram