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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

William Wetmore Story (1819–1895)

Sculptor. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, and brought up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Story was the son of a Harvard law professor, and began his own adult life as a lawyer, though his real interests had always been artistic. On his father’s death, he was com­missioned to create a funerary monument to him. To prepare himself for this task, he went with his family to Rome in 1847. The statue of Justice Joseph Story was erected in 1855 in Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, but later relocated to Memorial Hall, Harvard. In Rome, Story devoted himself to ideal statuary, but his career was slow to take off, and in 1855 he briefly returned to America and the legal profession. However, in the following year he finally relinquished the law altogether. His critical fortunes greatly improved when Pope Pius IX sponsored the transportation of his statues of Cleopatra and the Libyan Sibyl to the International Exhibition in London in 1862. His distinctive, brooding marble heroines and other ideal figures enjoyed considerable popularity, and a number of his works were carved in multiple versions. Examples of his Cleopatra, Libyan Sibyl and Medea are in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Story also received commissions for public portrait statues, including one in 1867 of the philanthropist merchant George Peabody (resident in London since 1838 but, like Story, Massachusetts-born) outside the Royal Exchange Buildings, City of London, and two in the 1880s from the US government – the scientist Joseph Henry (1883) and Chief Justice John Marshall (1884) – for sites in Washington. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Story’s studio became a scheduled stop for tourists in Rome. After completing a memorial to his wife, who died in 1893, Story handed the premises over to his son Thomas Waldo Story, who was also a sculptor.

Bibliography (updated 2024): T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, p. xxiv; W.H. Gerdts, ‘William Wetmore Story’, American Art Journal, no. 4, November 1972, pp. 16–33; H. James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends from Letters, Diaries and Recollections, 2 vols, 1903. Reprint, Da Capo Press, New York, 1969; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 338–41.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003

Story, William Wetmore

Mathew Benjamin Brady, William Wetmore Story, 1865/1880 (photo: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)