Postales de Chicago: #1 Los Leones del Instituto de Arte de Chicago

Sketch by Wes Douglas

Uno de los Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago’s entrance: “In An Attitude of Defiance”

By Wes Douglas, USk Chicago

As we look forward to the 8th International Symposium, I thought I might take you on a virtual tour of my favorite views of Chicago which I have named “Postcards from Chicago.” 

Each week I will post a different scene of Chicago – some may be familiar to you and some may be less familiar – and by the time I am done it should be time for the Symposium. This should be a fun series. 

For this first postcard, many who come to visit Chicago are first met by two iconic guardians of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Lions, who have stood at the Michigan Avenue entrance since the building’s inaugural year. This site became the museum’s permanent home at the conclusion of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where the new structure had hosted lectures and other events for fairgoers.

Modeled by Edward Kemeys, an essentially self-taught artist and the nation’s first great “animalier” (sculptor of animals), the lion pair was unveiled on May 10, 1894. Kemeys focused his talents on sculptural portrayals of North American wildlife, capturing such native creatures in anatomical, naturalistic detail. For the Art Institute, he modeled larger-than-life African lions, the one positioned north of the steps is known as “on the prowl” and the lion to the south (sketched here) is known as “in an attitude of defiance,” in Kemeys’s words. These behavioral distinctions are visible in the variation of head, tail, and stance. Each weighing in at more than two tons, the Lions were cast in Chicago by the American Bronze Founding Company.

In recent years, whenever one of Chicago’s sports team have done well and reached the pinnacle of their sport, the two lions are outfitted with appropriate attire and gear relative to a particular sport. For example, when the football Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985, both lions sported large custom helmets with the team’s insignia. More recently, when the Chicago Cubs baseball team captured the hearts of Cub fans across the country and broke a 108-year drought, the lions wore specially made baseball caps with the Cubs logo.

Be sure to look for the lions when you visit Chicago. No doubt they will be looking for you.


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