The beloved bronze lions flanking the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago will leave their posts for their first deep-cleaning in 21 years.
On Tuesday, they’ll be removed and taken to a facility in Forest Park, where they will be steam-cleaned, then coated with a wax preservative. The whole process will take a little over a month, said Shannon Palmer, an Art Institute spokeswoman.
Think the lions are identical? Nope. As you face the museum from the sidewalk, the lion on the left is meant to look “on the prowl,” according to a history of the lions posted on the Art Institute website, while the lion on the right was sculpted “in an attitude of defiance.” In that article, sculptor Edward Kemeys said the defiant lion was “the most difficult I’ve ever attempted.”
Weighing more than 2 tons each, the lions have been part of the Art Institute since May 1894.
Kemeys created them for the 1893 Columbian Exposition; they were commissioned by Art Institute benefactor Florence Lathrop, wife of philanthropist Henry Field, younger brother of Marshall Field.
After its conclusion, she asked that they be placed at the museum as a tribute to her husband, who had died in 1890.
Kemeys would later become known as America’s first animalier — a painter or sculptor of animals.
The lions should be back on the job, guarding the museum, before the end of July.