William Wetmore Story was the son of Associate Justice Joseph Story of the U.S. Supreme Court. He earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1838 and two years later received a law degree. Story practiced law for about five years and was the author of several legal textbooks, also writing poetry and a biography of his father. Although art was a hobby, he never received formal art instruction. Nonetheless, Story was commissioned to design a memorial statue of his father after his death in 1846. To prepare himself for this project, Story went to Italy to study sculpture.
By 1856, after briefly returning to Boston, he abandoned the practice of law and settled in Rome, dedicating himself to making sculpture. His studio in Rome became something of a literary salon, frequented by his friends Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, and Henry James, who would later write Story's biography. It was one of Story's most important sculptures, Cleopatra, that Hawthorne used as the work of the fictional artist in his novel The Marble Faun (1860). Among Story's best friends in Rome were the English poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
During the 1860s Story's work was largely devoted to literary subjects, often inspired by Greek tragedy, and also biblical figures. He also began to execute memorial portrait statues. Story remained in Italy for the rest of his life and died in Vallombrosa in 1895.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)