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  • image SDR21.29

Miniature portrait of Anna or ‘Nancy’ Storace (1765-1817)), the celebrated singer, painted on ivory(?)


Museum number: SDR21.29

Curatorial note

The celebrated singer Anna Selina Storace, usually called Nancy, was born in London, the daughter of an Italian double-bass player and a relatively wealthy Englishwoman. She seems to have been a child prodigy, appearing in a concert at the Haymarket in April 1774. She became a pupil of the Italian castrato singer Veranzio Rauzzini (who performed in London from 1774 until his death in 1778) and made her operatic debut aged 11. Her parents took her to Italy where she performed in opera, oratorio and concert in Naples, Florence, Parma, Milan and Rome. It was in Italy where she capitvated the young Soane when he was on his grand tour (1778-890). In 1780 she was singing at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence and she is almost certainly the 'Miss S.' who made such a great impression on him. Soane was at that time passing through the city on his way home. His diary for 29 April records 'left Florence and dear Miss S' and on April 30 he noted 'wrote to Miss S at Florence'.

Nancy Storace moved to Vienna in the early 1780s where she married the violinist John Abraham Fisher, much older than herself. The marriage was unhappy and short-lived: when Fisher was violent towards her the Emperor ordered him to leave Vienna. While in Vienna Nancy sang the role of Susannah in Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at its first performance (1 May 1786). Michael Kelly, the Irish singer, wrote of the opera 'I have seen it performed at different periods ... and well too, but no more to compare with its orignal performance than light is to darkness. All the original performers had the advantage of the instructions of the composer who transferred into their minds his inspired meaning'. Mozart was so impressed with Nancy that it was for her that he wrote his great concert area KV505 and her recovery from an illness was celebrated by a cantata composed jointly by Mozart, Salieri and Cornetti.

Soane did not meet Nancy again until some years after his return to London and marriage, to Eliza Smith, in 1784. Nancy returned to London in early 1787 with her mother and brother Stephen, a composer. During the 1790s she began a long-lasting relationship with the tenor John Braham (1774-1856), nine years her junior (they could not marry because Fisher was still alive). They had a son, Spencer, in the late 1780s. Despite not being married they were received socially and became close friends of the Soanes, visiting them in London and at their country home Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing. These meetings are recorded in the Soane archives. Mrs Soane sometimes noted Nancy's name as 'Storache' which indicates that it was pronounced in the Italian manner. Entries in Eliza Soane's notebooks show how close they were, for example: 8 December 1804 'Bought a new head dress of Henderson, recom[mende]d by Storace'; 1 April 1805 'went in ye evening to Storace Benefit, a great Riot, ye play did not begin till near 9 o'clock' or 14 July 1805 'Braham, Storache, Turner and Morely dined and slept at Ealing'.

In 1804 Soane purchased a piano from Nancy, probably for his wife. In 1808 he designed additions to her country house, Herne Hill Cottage, and in 1814 to her house in Tavistock Square (not far from Lincoln's Inn Fields). Nancy retired from the stage in 1808. Braham left her in 1816 and Soane was asked to arbitrate over their property. Nancy died on 24 August 1817 and Soane both attended her funeral and designed her memorial tablet which is in St Mary's Church, Lambeth (with a poetical inscription written by Prince Hoare). He also had to adminster her Will of 1797 (no later one could be found) and negoitate a settlement with Braham that made a fair provision for Spencer as well as for Braham himself. John Braham married Frances Elzabeth Bolton in 1816, with whom he went on to have 6 children. Their third child was named Ward Soane Braham (1826 Kensington -1877 Henley) presumably in tribute to Braham's old friend John Soane.

This is a damaged portrait by an unknown miniaturist which, judging from the costume, dates from c.1800-1810 (high waisted with an overdress trimmed in blue; note her hair is worn up, with a feather at the front and held in place with a scarf). In the Museum's earliest inventories it is described as a portrait of 'Madame Storace', perhaps reflecting how Nancy was referred to formally. Despite the damage it does convey something of the vivacity and charm of one of John and Eliza Soane's closest friends.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk