The Mystery of the Museum Lion

Museum Lion Tannery 20210127 0658
The lion was given to the museum by Jean and George Armstrong.


It is safe to say that every visitor to the Vero Beach Museum of Art notices the lion. He stands on a pedestal directly in front of the main entrance. He has a shaggy mane, a curving tail, and a powerful yet agile build. He is poised upon a rocky surface, climbing upward, his mouth open as if in the beginnings of a roar.  

This bronze sculpture is an icon of the museum: part guardian lion, part mascot, part regal welcomer. Yet until recently, the origins of this sculpture were mysterious. It’s a story that begins on the far side of the world, for the lion is the work of a Japanese artist. The international intrigue of the case stretches into Europe as well, as the investigation into the sculpture’s history involves experts, auction houses and exhibitions in some of
the great cities of that continent — London, Edinburgh and Paris.

The detective in this story is VBMA Curator Anke Van Wagenberg. “I contacted my spy network,” she says with a laugh, adding, “No, it was actually just research.”

Van Wagenberg’s curiosity was first piqued when she looked into the artist’s name as it was given on the plaque in front of the sculpture. The plaque had been in place for years, bearing a Japanese name. However, Van Wagenberg was able to find no record of an artist of that name. “This was just a mystery,” she recalls. “I just thought, this cannot be right; there is something totally amiss.”

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