The Dying Lioness (1873)

by Wilhelm Franz Alexander Friedrich Wolff (1816 - 1887)

Photo Caption: Photo Caitlin Martin © 2015 for the Association for Public Art
  • Title

    The Dying Lioness

  • Artist

    Wilhelm Franz Alexander Friedrich Wolff (1816 - 1887)

  • Year

    1873; cast 1875; installed 1876

  • Location

    Philadelphia Zoo entrance, 34th Street and Girard Avenue

  • Medium

    Bronze, on granite base

  • Dimensions

    Height 5’9″, width 4', depth 4'1/2" (base height 4′, width 4'8 1/2", depth 4'5 1/2")

  • Themes

    The Animal Kingdom

Commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art)

Owned by the Philadelphia Zoological Society

At A Glance

  • The model for the sculpture won first prize at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873

  • The emperor of Germany receieved the first casting of the piece, which was installed in the Imperial Garden in Berlin

  • The Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) purchased the second casting

  • The artist was the younger brother of Albert Wolff, sculptor of The Lion Fighter

Of the many sculptures at the Philadelphia Zoo, The Dying Lioness is one of the best known. The model for the sculpture won first prize at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873, and it soon caught the attention of Herman J. Schwarzmann,

The maternal instinct, stronger than death, has caused the dying lioness to give her last strength to the nourishment of her young; over the mother and the whelps stands the lion, the prominent figure of the group, who roars defiance, grief and rage.

master architect for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, who shared his discovery with the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art). The emperor of Germany had already been promised the first casting of the piece, which was to be installed in the Imperial Garden in Berlin, and he granted the Art Association permission to purchase a second casting. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, it was exhibited outdoors at the 1876 Centennial.

The artist was the younger brother of Albert Wolff, sculptor of The Lion Fighter, and was known for his powerful and allegorical renderings of animals. The Fairmount Park Art Association’s Annual Report (1876) praises his depiction of “the maternal instinct, stronger than death, [which] has caused the dying lioness to give her last strength to the nourishment of her young; over the mother and the whelps stands the lion, the prominent figure of the group, who roars defiance, grief and rage.”

Adapted from Public Art in Philadelphia by Penny Balkin Bach (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992).

 

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