Stop 52. Edward Clark Potter’s Lionesses


Aside from a collection of books, what does the J. Pierpont Morgan Library have in common with the New York Public Library (NYPL) on 42nd Street? Our lions!

The lionesses that flank the original entrance to our Library building were created by the acclaimed sculptor, Edward Clark Potter, who also created the lions at the entrance of the NYPL. The lions at the NYPL were completed in 1911, several years after our library and lionesses were completed and remain an important marker of our library building today.

During the restoration of our library building, our lionesses have also received some special treatment. After spending several months in hibernation protected by protective boxes, our duo received a thorough cleaning, followed by a surface treatment to ensure they are protected for years to come. Both of our lionesses had their ears renewed through a hand-carved dutchman repair to fill loss that occurred over the years. The restoration has given a new life to our lionesses, who are ready to continue guarding our building for years to come.


Deirdre Jackson, Assistant Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts
McKim’s friend Daniel Chester French, one of the most prominent American sculptors of the day, recommended that the architect engage Edward Clark Potter to sculpt the marble lionesses that grace the Library’s entrance. In 1903, Potter was awarded a commission of $10,000 to sculpt the female guardian lions that would be placed on inclined pedestals on either side of the front steps. He sketched live models at the new Lion House at the Bronx Zoo and then sculpted a lioness in clay in his studio in Greenwich, Connecticut. Next, plaster models were made to guide the stonecutter, who worked with large blocks of Tennessee marble. Potter likely hired John Grignola, an accomplished Italian immigrant carver, to execute the work.

Potter went on to sculpt the celebrated male lions that were installed outside the New York Public Library in 1911.