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Lions at The Art Institute of Chicago

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The Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago are the art museum's iconic guardians — and they're always ready for a selfie.

Iconic guardians of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Lions have stood at the Michigan Avenue entrance since the building’s inaugural year. The 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 “on the prowl” and the lion to the south “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 2 tons, the Lions were cast in Chicago by the American Bronze Founding Company.

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