Sunday, April 22, 2018

Levy Lions discovered at Little Biltmore in North Carolina

The Levy Lions with Shields gazing down on tiered gardens.
My mother recently told me that when I was a little girl I loved to put together puzzles (something that I still enjoy). I also love suspense and surprises, so searching for the Levy Lions was a fascination. When I began my quest to find the Levy Lion statues I never dreamed that it would take 5 years to track down 4 massive lion statues. I began to fear the worst as time has a way of eroding and destroying history. In the early 1900's Charlottesville photographer Rufus Holsinger photographed the lion statues many times, over many years, at Monticello. Big, heavy statues don't just disappear.

Amazing manes make this pair unique.
If you have been following my quest, I know you are relieved to know that all four lions have been accounted for! I had a feeling someone would eventually stumble upon my blog and contact me with a lead, and that's exactly what happened. A woman who lives in California claimed her parents had the pair of Levy lions with shields. The history passed down to them by the prior owners of their estate was that in the 1920's the lions were pulled from a storage area that held Levy family items. This certainly lines up with the 1928 removal of Levy items from Monticello. It was even rumored that the lions were won in a poker game! Who acquired the lions and where they were being stored is still a mystery. They could have been purchased at auction and warehoused or removed by a Levy heir prior to auction.

Historic Holsinger photos (1 and 3) vs current photos (2 and 4)
I still had to authenticate the lions. After several fake lion scares, I was suspect. As luck would have it, I was able to do a little online research because the historic home where the lions reside is currently listed for sale and there are several photos of the pair of lions. I knew the second I saw the lions that they were authentic but I proceeded to create a side by side comparison of historic and current photos. One of my favorite historic photos is of the back of the lion which outlines every muscle and details the lovely mane. Another match was the cursive "L" inscribed on the front shield. I've seen several without any inscription so to find anything on the shield is rare. The only discrepancy is time and wear. The lions are missing a few teeth but everything else matches up!

Massive circular fountain bowl & record red Maple on right
The lions guard a historic home and grounds that has an extensive history. Secluded on 28 acres of solitude in virgin forests, Chanteloup is on the North Carolina registry of historic homes. The estate was built in 1840 for a french Count and Countess and has been referred to as Little Biltmore. Two sisters bought Chanteloup around 1900 and hired famed designer Frederick Olmsted, the father of American Landscape Architecture. The Norton sisters knew the Vanderbilt's who were planning to build their estate in Virginia until they visited Chanteloup and fell in love with North Carolina. To note, a state record holding Ornamental Maple tree is on the property.

Leonard and the Levy Lion
Not only was the trip to see the lions amazing, the property owners, Linda and Leonard celebrated this event with us by providing lunch on the veranda. I could gaze upon the lions and the Olmsted gardens and watch the birds dip and dive down in the valley below. We were lucky as it was the first warm Spring day where you could actually sit outside.

Beautiful wall mural painted by Leonard
Linda has an eye for color which is tastefully reflected in the home with updated features and decor but in keeping with the historic charm, period pieces have been collected. Over the years many renovations have preserved the home for future generations to enjoy. The property would make a wonderful museum or wedding reception venue. Linda and Leonard so hate to leave Chanteloup, having committed 20+ years restoring their beautiful home. Even the lions could be sold if the right party would come along. Maybe it's time for them to be reunited with a Levy heir? Time will tell, just please let me know the new owner!

I can't think of a better spot for the lions and am happy they have owners that appreciate them as I do.

~Rebecca 

3 comments:

  1. Great news--and great work, Rebecca. I'll be writing about this in my Saving Monticello e newsletter, as I have since you began your quest. Congrats! -- Marc

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  2. these statues are just lovely.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed seeing them, it was a thrill to see in person.

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