Art and Water II: The arrival of tap water

Discover the new uses for water and its most emblematic objects, from an art perspective.

Museu de les Aigües

The Water Museum

Museu de les Aigües showcase (2021) by Museu de les AigüesMuseu de les Aigües

The objects in the collection of the Museo de las Aguas, duly paired with works of art by great artists, show us how the arrival of tap water brought about a change of uses and a real advance towards well-being in homes.

Heater (1920) by HeklaMuseu de les Aigües

The Heater

The arrival of running water in the domestic realm leads to the transformation of usage, spaces and customs. Well-being and hygiene move forward with private bathrooms and instantaneous hot water. 

Before the Bath (1894) by Ramon CasasOriginal Source: Museu de Montserrat

A chronicler of the society of the late nineteenth century, like the painter Ramon Casas, could not ignore a subject like the bathroom. His soft and seductive brushstrokes create a subtle, almost warm light that adds to the sought-after effect of utter comfort.

Faucet (1902)Museu de les Aigües

The Tap

Once the water distribution network was set up in cities, domestic taps became an essential part of the home, not just as a functional element, but in many cases, also an aesthetic one.

Two Japanese Wrestlers by a Sink (1983) by Lucian FreudOriginal Source: The Art Institute of Chicago

The strong realism of Lucian Freud's painting crudely reflects an intimate space that focuses on two powerful jets of water, with a strong expressive component.

Radiator (1930)Museu de les Aigües

The Radiator 

The cast iron water heater signified a major improvement to the home. It provided comfort and meant that the temperature could be adjusted in different spaces. This opulently decorated radiator was created in the 1930s and belonged to house in the Eixample district of Barcelona.

Intérieur blanc (1932) by Pierre BonnardOriginal Source: Musée de Grenoble

Known as the "painter of happiness", Pierre Bonnard portrays a scene of ambience and comfort in Intérieur blanc: the intimacy of a space overlooking a garden, with a warming fireplace, a tea tray, and a modern hot water radiator.

Sinaí (1925) by Conrado GranellMuseu de les Aigües

The Sinai

At the start of the 20th century, a hygienist trend trickled down through different social classes that linked water consumption with health. The Sinai works as a domestic water filter system by stacking ceramic tanks to remove impurities via vertical filtration.

Sinaí (1925) by Conrado GranellMuseu de les Aigües

From the moment Conrado Granell created the design, the ceramic material used in the Sinai has always stayed true to the aesthetics of Levantine ceramics.

Mechanical washing machine (1907) by Morisons WasherMuseu de les Aigües

The Hand-Cranked Washing Machine

The domestic task of washing clothes moves inside the home, and so begins a path of innovation that will bring the mechanical washing machine into the 19th century and, years later, lead to the automatic washing machine.

Home washing machine & wringer (Circa 1869)Original Source: Library of Congress

The laundry, which was previously done by hand and in a communal way with a distribution of labour, is carried out inside the home, thanks to the manual washing machine. This lithograph summarises what this new item of modernity represented.

Hose nozzle (20th Century)Museu de les Aigües

The Hose

Crowded urban living led to the need to improve the cleanliness of public spaces. The intensive use of roads and urban infrastructures called for the use of pressurised water hoses as an essential aid in street cleaning.

Paseo de Recoletos, Madrid 1953 by Francesc Català-RocaOriginal Source: Fons Fotogràfic F. Català-Roca - Arxiu Històric del COAC

As can be seen through this photograph by Francesc Català-Roca, the use of water helped maintain a sufficient level of hygiene and cleanliness, despite the growing urban population of the post-war years.

Barcelona Model FountainMuseu de les Aigües

The Barcelona Fountain Model

As crucial elements of the distribution network, public fountains are strategically distributed throughout the region, facilitating access to running water for a part of the population.

Inauguration of a public fountain (Circa 1950) by Pérez de RozasOriginal Source: Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona

The Pérez de Rozas family, one of the photojournalistic dynasties that have marked the history of reporting in Barcelona during the 20th century, reflected how the inauguration of a public fountain was an event of great importance for the city, both in civil and political terms.

Cornellà plant, Agbar Water Museum, 2017, From the collection of: Museu de les Aigües
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Know more about the history of water at:

Cornellà plant (2017) by Agbar Water MuseumMuseu de les Aigües

Do you want to explore the entire Art and water collection?

Art and water I: Before tap water
Art and water II: The arrival of tap water
Art and water III: What brought water to the tap

Museu de les Aigües

Credits: Story

This exhibition has been created with the objects from the Water Museum and with the works of the Museum of Montserrat (Abans del bany), The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence (Two Japanese Wrestlers by a Sink), Ville de Grenoble/Musée de Grenoble - J. L. Lacroix (Intérieur blanc),  Library of Congress (Home washing machine & wringer), Fons Fotogràfic F. Català-Roca - Arxiu Històric del COAC (Paseo de Recoletos, Madrid 1953) y Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona (Inauguració d'una font pública).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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