Two cast iron dolphins, historical ornaments from the Bridge of Porte de France in Grenoble by Gustave Eiffel

Cast iron.

Height : 176 and 150 cm (69’’ 1/4 and 59'' 1/16) ; Width : 47 cm (18’’ 1/2) ; Depth : 66 cm (26’’)

Originating from the erstwhile Bridge of Porte de France in Grenoble (South of France).

Circa 1892.





Historical remains of a now disappeared work by Gustave Eiffel, these two chimeric dolphins in cast iron come from the former Pont de France in Grenoble. The railing of this beautiful iron bridge was then adorned with sixty-eight cast iron dolphins, emblems of the province of Dauphiné which Grenoble was the capital..
Built in 1892, the bridge was destroyed in 1956 to answer to the intensification of road traffic. So, the dolphins were partly melted, and some were saved like the two pieces that we have the pleasure to present here.
Rare historical witnesses of a work of art by Gustave Eiffel, being moreover beautiful sculptures of superb quality, these pieces can from now on be adapted as fountains or adorn a pleasure garden


Bridge of the Porte de France, Grenoble, antique postcard.


Gustave Eiffel, a prodigious engineer

Known throughout the world, the name of Gustave Eiffel is forever associated with the Eiffel Tower, erected in 1889 for the Universal Exhibition of Paris.
Born in Dijon on December 15, 1832, the young Gustave was admitted to the Ecole Centrale in 1852, and studies metallurgy from 1856. It was while he was working for Charles Nepveu that the young engineer carried out his first bridges projects, which allows him at the age of 25 years to take charge of the immense Pont de Bordeaux. As a result of this major success, he realized several bridges in the South-West of France.
Portrait of Gustave Eiffel by Aimé Morot, 1905, private collection.




Prodigy of the mid-19th century, Eiffel starts his own business in Levallois-Perret, a workshop that conceives all the parts destined to be assembled on the sites. Between 1870 and 1880, the whole world appealed to G. Eiffel et Cie, notably for the framework of the Statue of Liberty in New York (1882), the Pest Train Station in Hungary, but also in Java, Bolivia or Algeria. His career culminated in 1889 with the realization of the highest monument of the time, the Eiffel Tower.

The bridge of Grenoble and its dolphins is therefore one of its first constructions realized after the Eiffel Tower, in 1892. Although Gustave Eiffel is better known for the Iron Lady, the dolphins of the bridge of Grenoble are therefore very representative of his career.


Two rare ornaments of the Porte de France Bridge in Grenoble (1892)
The bridge of the Porte de France, Grenoble, postcard, circa 1914.
The city of Grenoble widened considerably in the 19th century, from 10,000 to 74,000 inhabitants. Around 1880, the city wall was enlarged, which required the construction of a bridge over the Isère River.
Around 1890, after the success of the Eiffel Tower, the city of Grenoble appealed to the great engineer for its bridge, and work began in 1892. Holding on two piers in the Isère River, the bridge of the Porte de France, also called Esplanade bridge or Bastille bridge, has three spans and the railing is adorned with cast iron dolphins.
Becoming too narrow in the twentieth century for traffic needs, the bridge was destroyed in 1956, and replaced by a construction of Pelnard-Considere and Co. The 68 dolphins of the Eiffel bridge were partly melted, but some were preserved by the towns of the region and by private individuals.
Current bridge of the Porte de France in Grenoble, built in 1956.


Indeed, one of these dolphins is now in Tullins, a small town near Grenoble, that made a public fountain of it about 1960, called "Paradise Fountain". Two dolphins also adorn the town hall of Colombe, another town of Isère, and two others adorn the entrance of the Paraboot shoe factory in Sceaux. The founder of the factory was indeed from the region and wanted to celebrate his native origins.


Paradise Fountain, Tullins, Isère.
Paraboot Factory, Sceaux, Ile de France.


Some private people have also saved these dolphins, so that they periodically resurface on the art market. The two we are presenting today were saved by a former municipal employee of Grenoble, at the time of the destruction of the bridge that was the pride of the city. Remaining in the family since then, it is the first time that they reappear since the dismantling of the bridge.


The dolphins, symbols of the Dauphiné Province

Coat of arms of the Dauphiné region, carved on the Palace of the Dauphiné Parliament, Grenoble.



Preciousely preserved in the region, these dolphins are indeed the symbol of the Dauphiné Province, of which Grenoble was the capital, and have been represented on the coat of arms since the 12th century. It was then an independent state, the Dauphiné of Viennois, under the authority of the counts of Albon who call themselves the Dauphins of Viennois, “dauphin” being the French for dolphin. Hence the title of “Dauphin of France” for the heir to the crown, for since the annexation of Dauphiné in 1349, this province is the prerogative of the crown prince.



The Eiffel dolphins have the chimerical form of Neptune's dolphins, as they have been represented since antiquity, as evidenced by the mosaics of Ostia, the ancient port of Rome.
The artists of the Renaissance drew on these ancient representations, so that the mythological dolphin marked the spirits in extraordinary works, such as the Triton Fountain that Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted for Pope Urban VIII in 1643.
A drawing of Jean Le Pautre fixes the features we find in these cast dolphins: the body covered with scales, the eyes surrounded by concentric volutes, a dorsal fin and two fins on each side of the head.
Mosaics of Ostia antique harbor, Roma.
Bernini, Triton Fountain, Piazza Bernini, 1643, Roma.
Jean Le Pautre, Putti playing with dolphins, 1673,
Château de Versailles.
Dolphins and putti of the Lavalette Fountain, 1884,
place Grenette, Grenoble.




Thus, the chimeric dolphins already decorate the city of Grenoble in 1825, with the Lavalette Fountain cast by Crozatier. Eiffel prefers a more harmonious shape for his bridge of 1892, enabling to soften the angles of the railing with the beam. Repeated all along the bridge, these dolphins were discreet from afar while offering a pleasant decoration closer.

The pair of dolphins we present is therefore of historical importance, being a rare vestige of a destroyed work of Gustave Eiffel. Authentic ornaments of the guardrail of the former bridge of Grenoble, with the exceptional quality peculiar to a public purchase, they bear the memory of the incredible progresses, in particular technological, which were realized thanks to the company G. Eiffel and Co. .

Cet article est également disponible en : French

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *