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Art Institute lions to be removed temporarily for conservation work

Art Institute lions to be removed temporarily for cleaning
Art Institute lions to be removed temporarily for cleaning 00:12

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The famous lions that flank the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago will be coming down for a short time for maintenance.

On Tuesday, June 14, the bronze lions will be removed from their plinths at the Michigan Avenue entrance to the esteemed art museum for conservation treatment. A crane will be coming to pick them up and put them on a truck, where they will undergo treatment offsite from an Art Institute conservation partner.

The treatment will involve a steam cleaning and the application of a wax coating for protection, the Art Institute said.

The Art Institute lions were sculpted in 1893 by Edward Kemeys, and were installed in front of the Art Institute the following year. 

 As noted by the Chicago Park District, Kemeys (1843-1907) – a native of Savannah, Georgia – was known as the leading American sculptor of wild animals in his time. Twelve of his sculptures were showcased at the World's Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park – among them jaguars, bears, bison, and temporary plaster versions of the same lions, the Park District said.

The plaster lions stood alongside the entrance to the Palace of Fine Arts at the World's Fair – a building that we have known as the Museum of Science and Industry since 1933.

After the World's Fair, Florence Lathrop Field – the wife of businessman and philanthropist Henry Field and the sister-in-law of Marshall Field – donated funds to have the lions recast in bronze and place them at the entrance to the Art Institute in Grant Park.

Lion statue outside of the Art Institute of Chicago
View of lion statue on the south side of the steps outside the South Michigan Avenue entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1908. The University Club building across the street is under construction in this image. Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

As the Park District notes, the Chicago Tribune in 1894 quoted Kemeys as saying the lions were conceived of as guards for the building. The south lion, Kemeys told the newspaper, is "attracted by something in the distance which he is closely watching," while the north lion "has his back up, and is ready for a roar and a spring."

A woman poses in front of the lion at the Art Institute of Chicago in downtown Chicago, the United States, on Jan. 1, 2022. Vincent D. Johnson/Xinhua via Getty Images

In their 128 years in front of the Art Institute, the lions have become city icons and even mascots – and have suited up to join Chicago in an array of celebrations. They're outfitted in wreaths every holiday season, and are bedecked in celebratory giant helmets and caps each time the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Bears, or Blackhawks see postseason action. 

Chicago Cubs World Series Atmosphere
One of the Art Institute of Chicago lions wears a Chicago Cubs helmet to celebrate the Cubs' World Series birth in Chicago, Illinois on October 27, 2016. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images) / Getty Images
The lions outside the Art Institute of Chicago have put on their Blackhawks helmets for the team's return to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015. (Credit: CBS)

This goes back to the 1985 Bears' Super Bowl victory.

An Art Institute Lion wearing a Bears helmet, to honor the Bears' Super Bowl run in January 1986. (Credit: CBS)

Just last fall, the Lions wore Chicago Sky jerseys.

They also have their own quirky Twitter account.

The lions have gone on vacation for conservation work before too. The Art Institute supplied this photo of a similar temporary removal in 2001.

Art Institute of Chicago

They will return once the conservation work is complete, though the Art Institute news release did not specify a date.

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