A group of African lions first installed in the Museums entrance area in 1910 have recently made a spectacular comeback. Three of the original four have now been placed in the revamped atrium area - and look as arresting as they did back then.

Big Cats
first display in glass display cases between galleries 1 & 2 on level G. Image: Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum

An Era of Change
During the first decades of the twentieth century the Australian Museum began to focus on modernizing their displays and rethinking their engagement with the public. The days of crowded looking display cases jam packed with lifeless specimens were disappearing. Dioramas and animal groups would herald a new era of museum exhibits. ‘Reproducing nature’ was seen to be more instructive and entertaining than multiple rows of specimens with didactic labels. In the public spaces at least science began to give way to art - and taxonomists to taxidermists.

Lions on exhibition 1919
A pride of lions on display at the museum entrance around 1919. Image: C. Clutton
© Australian Museum

An Attractive Exhibit
The Museums annual report for 1910 proudly announced that ‘The New Group of Lions has been placed near the entrance… and forms both a conspicuous, most interesting and attractive exhibit.’ The foreground and the lions were the work of Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, Rochester, New York. Known at the time as ‘the godfather of all museums’ Wards played an important part in the development of modern taxidermy and animal groups.

Ten years later the display was further embellished by the addition of a scenic background ‘of forest, plain, and hill, with here and there small herds of zebras, antelopes and giraffes’. This fantastical rather than realistic scenario created by the painter and art teacher Herbert Gallop, had the dramatic affect of turning the display into something like a scenic theatrical group.

Today the majestic lions stalk the foyer again - looking as impressive as ever.