The famous statues of four lions in Trafalgar Square, surrounding Nelson’s Column, are commonly known as the ‘Landseer Lions’ after the artist who created them. It had not been intended that Landseer would sculpt the lions – the commission had gone first to the sculptor Thomas Milnes, now totally obscure, and he had made a set of four stone lions for the site.
However, these were judged not impressive enough for the memorial to Nelson, and were in the end bought by Titus Salt, and sent to his village of Saltaire, where they remain today. So Edwin Landseer, the famous painter known above all for his dogs, and horses, was asked to design the lions in 1858. Landseer had in fact already made a series of paintings of lions, but was not a sculptor, but accepted the commission. He worked slowly, and four years on, was still sketching them; in the words of the Art Journal, he: ‘was now very accurately studying the habits of lions, and was to be seen in the Zoological Gardens making himself thoroughly acquainted with their attitudes’.