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WILLIAM WETMORE STORY (AMERICAN, 1819–1895)
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY (AMERICAN, 1819–1895)
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY (AMERICAN, 1819–1895)
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY (AMERICAN, 1819–1895)
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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT SOUTHERN COLLECTION
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY (AMERICAN, 1819–1895)

Dalilah

Details
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY (AMERICAN, 1819–1895)
Dalilah
signed and dated with interlaced monogram ‘WWS/ROMA 1868’ (to the reverse of the base)
marble
76 ½ in. (194.5 cm.) high
Provenance
Edward Mathews, New York, 1872.
Eugene Leone, New York.
with Spanierman Gallery, New York.
with Hammer Galleries, New York.
Sam Wyly, Dallas, Texas, acquired from the above, 1998.
Dallas Auction Gallery, 5 October 2016, lot 45.
Literature
R. S., ‘American Artists in Rome,’ Quarterly Bulletin (Archives of American Art), vol. 3, no. 3, 1963, p. 4. 
M. Phillips, Reminiscences of William Wetmore Story: The American Sculptor and Author; Being Incidents and Anecdotes Chronologically Arranged, Together with an Account of His Association with Famous People and His Principal Works in Literature and Sculpture, 1897, p. 153.
J. Dillenberger, The Visual Arts and Christianity in America: From the Colonial Period to the Present, 2004, p. 130.
H. James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends: From Letters, Diaries, and Recollections, vol. II, 1903, p. 169.

Condition report

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Lot Essay

With a furrowed brow and the seven soft tresses of her lover at her feet, this brooding, tense and complex composition of Delilah by one of America’s greatest Romantic sculptors encompasses the aura of the ultimate ‘femme fatale’. With her dramatic, contemplative pose, bejeweled décolletage and trailing fringed drapery, the present figure represents the finest work of William Wetmore Story’s Roman production. Described by the artist himself as ‘magnificent, and promises to be among the finest blocks I have ever done’, the present figure remains among the artist’s earliest works produced from his Roman workshop and one of only two recorded in this imposing and impressive over-life-size scale.

As recounted in the Book of Judges, Delilah, one of several seductresses in the Hebrew Bible, betrayed Samson by using trickery to discover the source of his strength – his hair – and shearing his braided tresses which had been discovered to be the source of his immense strength. Old Testament epics, such as the tales of Samson and Delilah, Judith and Holofernes, Hagar and Ishmael, among others, were ‘in vogue’ in the mid-19th century due to an ‘interest in the sentimental in Victorian culture generally and in religion specifically, which is personified in Woman’ (The Visual Arts and Christianity in America: From the Colonial Period to the Present, 2004, p. 130). Story, having conceived large-scale portraits of Saul, Medea and other historical characters, ‘preferred to depict personalities whose passions were on the brink of eruption: the notorious, the wronged, and the martyred. He was particularly attracted to melancholy, brooding females as sculptural subjects’ (J. Seidler Ramirez, ‘William Wetmore Story’, American Figurative Sculpture in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, 1986, p. 107).

An ingenue of composition and interpretation, Story depicts the seconds following her heinous deed – a clear departure from the renowned canvases of Van Dyke and Rubens who capture the protagonist contemplating the delicate and tenuous decision to shear Samson’s locks as he slumbers in her lap. Rather, Story seizes on another moment - one engorged with the enormity and weight of the consequences of her treacherous actions and clearly carved on her brow. However, she emerges triumphant ‘from the couch and stands erect in the proud triumph of success. The attitude is grandly majestic: with one hand she is clasping the flowing drapery around her waste [sic], while the other holds the purse with the golden pieces… A wide band encircles her head, confining the long tresses of her hair. Just at her feet are the seven locks shaven from Samson's head.’ Story’s Dalilah is a stunning and highly-effective illustration of the subject captured in stone.

With the emergence of the Grand Tour in the 18th century, an influx of tourists, or ‘blessed strangers’, arrived in the Eternal City to flood artist studios in search of mementos of their travels abroad. The golden age for these resident artists came in the mid-19th century initially under Napoleon, who relocated the French Academy to the top of the Spanish Steps, attracting an affluent and fashionable patronage, including America’s Gilded Age elite. American artists followed in chase of European instruction and collaboration, establishing workshops of apprentices to cater to these emerging tastes. The introduction of the Great Exhibitions of mid-19th century lured curious and affluent Americans to Europe and, together with the advent of transatlantic travel and the installation of the Termini station, Rome became a virtual ‘mecca’ for American artists and their patrons wishing to escape uncompromising American winters. It was here in Rome that Henry James, in the late 19th century, crowned William Wetmore Story ‘the dean of American Artists in Rome’ (R. S. “American Artists in Rome,” Quarterly Bulletin (Archives of American Art), vol. 3, no. 3, 1963, p. 4). The existence of two full-scale models of Dalilah – the present example completed in 1868 and another in 1886, both of which entered prominent American collections – suggest that Story catered to this intrepid clientele, creating sumptuous figures that perfectly evoked the exuberance and excess of the age.
The most successful studios, like Story’s, occupied extensive apartments in the Barberini Palace and were swiftly added to popular tourist guide books and banking institutions much to the ease of visiting patrons. Story settled in the eternal city in 1856, as many of his American comrades did in the mid-19th century, starting production on his earliest commissions. Dr. Samuel Osgood, editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, often recounted his entrée into to artists’ studios and, on the occasion of a Thanksgiving Dinner at the American Club in 1869 wrote, ‘the American who goes to see the old art of Italy is sure to find his own countrymen hard at work, studying its secret and catching its inspiration.’ The proximity of the studios to the epicenter of Rome’s cultural artery – the Borghese Palace – was planned with great intention and burgeoning American sculptors found no shortage of inspiration in the iconic, textural marbles of Bernini, Canova and their contemporaries.
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Story came from a distinguished and affluent family who has established a commendable reputation in the legal profession. He was of a man of immense versatility as a lawyer – a discipline in which he graduated in 1840 - though it was as an author of poetry, prose and drama and as a critic of art in all its forms which made him an eminent host and focus for the Anglo-American community in Rome. Amongst his other most important ideal works are Sappho (1863) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Delilah (1886, fig. 1) and Saul (1881) both in the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, Medea (1868) in the Metropolitan Museum, New York and Alcestis (1874) in the Wadsworth Atheneum.

(fig. 1): Dalilah in an exhibition at the De Young Museum, San Francisco, 2013.

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