John Rogers (1829–1904) was unquestionably the most popular sculptor of the 19th century. In his lifetime he sold over 80,000 works and earned the epithet “the people’s sculptor.” His plasters, known as “Rogers groups,” vary in size from 21 to 48 inches high and were made in plaster, bronze and porcelain. These works carried on a deeply rooted American genre tradition that was popularized by painters such as William Sidney Mount and George Caleb Bingham. Rogers’ wide range of subjects included the Civil War, domestic life, popular theater and literary themes from Longfellow, Irving and Shakespeare.
Rogers wished to make his sculptures available and affordable to the widest possible audience. He advertised extensively, established a factory for large-scale production, and took great pains to ship the finished pieces intact to locations all over the country. In an era when most Americans had little access to works of art, or even serviceable reproductions, Rogers groups were a commonplace in the homes of the middle and upper class. More than any other artist of his era, Rogers reached Americans en masse, addressing issues that shaped their lives and that defined the American experience.
In addition to 40 plasters and master bronzes that he used to create the plasters, ephemeral materials from the New-York Historical Society Library and Print Room such as mail order catalogues, advertisements and stereograph views will vividly illustrate how his works were presented and promoted to the public. The exhibition will be enriched with a selection of paintings from the Historical Society’s acclaimed collection to show how Rogers carried on the American genre tradition.