The sale of two marble sculptures by the celebrated American artist William Wetmore Story and his son Thomas Waldo Story in the 19th and 20th Century Sculpture on 25 May is a unique family affair. Rediscovered in the collection of a direct descendant of the pair, the works provide a fascinating insight into the American school of neoclassical sculpture, which revolved around the Anglo-American community in Rome.


The Self-Portrait Bust by William Wetmore Story is at once a professional statement and a deeply personal object, both in its status as self-portrayal and in its provenance, having remained in the collection of the sculptor’s descendants until now.

Born in Massachusetts, Story was a man of immense versatility. Before settling as a sculptor in Rome in 1856, he trained as a lawyer, and remained an author of poetry, prose and drama throughout his life. Story was famed for his idealised classical figures and executed only few portraits. However, his entry into the profession of sculpture was in fact provided by the commission to produce a memorial sculpture of his father, the prominent Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. In his self-portrait, Story depicts himself in the artist's apparel, careful to project the image of professionalism at issue for an American and former lawyer who was largely self-taught in the art of sculpture.

In keeping with his upper-class status, Story shunned any appearance of bohemianism and aspired to move in the aristocratic circles of his patrons. While another version of the bust is owned by Harvard University, the present example may be seen as a memento for his family, in whose hands it has remained for more than a century.


The second marble from the collection is a beautifully carved profile bas-relief of Hermes by Wetmore Story’s son Thomas Waldo Story. Born in Italy, Waldo received an English education at Eton and Oxford. Active as a sculptor in Rome, he mingled with the expatriate artists living and practising around his father, as well as an impressive group of British aristocratic patrons.

The bas-relief became Waldo Story's signature medium as a sculptor, and he was the first to produce portrait bas-reliefs of British and American ladies of society. Waldo moved away from the severe classicism of his father towards a more contemporary ideal, no doubt influenced by his role as a portraitist for the upper classes. Like Wetmore Story’s self-portrait bust, this exquisite marble has been a cherished possession of the sculptors’ family until now.

The 19th and 20th Century Sculpture sale is in London on 25 May