William Wetmore Story
Signed in medallion: WWS/Roma 1865
Museum purchase, The J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art 2005.73
William Wetmore Story's "Cleopatra" represents the high point of mid-19th century American taste for neoclassical sculpture. The artist, an expatriate sculptor residing in Italy, created a monumental image of the brooding Egyptian queen. Seated on a throne, she leans back as if to contemplate past and future deeds.
After writer Nathaniel Hawthorne saw the clay model for "Cleopatra" in Story's studio, he described it in his novel "The Marble Faun" (1860). Immortalizing the artwork even before it was carved in stone, he declared it a "miraculous success" and continued:
"Cleopatra -- fierce, voluptuous, passionate, tender, wicked, terrible, and full of poisonous and rapturous enchantment . . . she would be one of the images that men keep forever, finding a heat in them which does not cool down, throughout the centuries."
Story went on to produce several full-scale idealized figures -- many of them powerful women from history and mythology. His "Cleopatra," however, remained one of the best known American sculptures of the century.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Photo Take 11 January 2006