The Council of War

The Council of War
Title
The Council of War
Date 
1868
Medium 
Painted plaster
Dimensions 
Overall: 23 3/4 x 13 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. ( 60.3 x 34.9 x 29.2 cm )
Description 
Figural genre.
Credit Line 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Object Number 
1925.42
Marks 
signed: proper left top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/ NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "THE COUNCIL OF WAR"
Gallery Label 
Rogers earned his early fame from his Civil War subjects, and after the war ended he produced a few more sculptures that memorialized the Northern leaders of the conflict. As a monument to three key figures in the war, General Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and the slain president Abraham Lincoln, The Council of War became one of Rogers' most resonant works. The idea for the group came from Stanton. Rogers asked for his advice through his wife's cousin, John H. Clifford of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Stanton wrote to Clifford describing one of the president's key councils of war in March 1864, immediately after Grant was given charge of all the Union armies. "Lieutenant General Grant[,] after returning from his first visit to the Army of the Potomac, laid before the President the plan of operations he proposed to adopt. This was at the War Department, and the group would embrace the three figures of the President, Secretary of War and General Grant. It would require no accessories but a roll or map in the hands of the General." Rogers' composition is very close to Stanton's suggestion except for the map, which, in the hands of the president rather than the secretary of war, makes Lincoln the central figure. The artist also added a scrolled paper, perhaps another map, curving behind Lincoln's feet, and he draped Lincoln's chair, perhaps to eliminate the distraction of its detailed surfaces. Rogers took great care in preparing to model the three likenesses, visiting Grant and Stanton and using photographs for reference. For the assassinated president he relied entirely on photographs. Rogers' oeuvre shows a mastery of portraiture that often goes unacknowledged, but here his talents were on full display and universally praised. Critical responses to the sculpture often noted with wonderment Rogers' great success in capturing likenesses of these three men, whose faces were as well known to the public as any man's was at the time. Some accounts noted the particular difficulty of rendering Lincoln, whose lanky, ungainly figure was a challenge for artists to realize in the heroic fashion appropriate to the man considered a martyr for the republic. Rogers was congratulated for not sacrificing accuracy for "elegance of form"; he was credited with giving the figure dignity but also an accurate sense of the man's physical presence through the awkward placement of his legs. The president's son Tad later wrote that his family considered The Council of War the most lifelike rendering of his father in sculpture. Stanton, too, congratulated the artist for surpassing any other likeness he had ever seen. In the years immediately following the Civil War, Americans struggled with the difficult psychological work of understanding the cataclysmic changes that had been wrought on the country and their own lives. Monument building was an important part of the public task of dealing with the conflict. Individuals could attempt the private work with the aid of more personal monuments. The Council of War functioned as a monument in miniature that could be placed in one's home. Even before the group was released to the public, the New York Evening Post was quick to distinguish it as a "higher flight" than Rogers' earlier Civil War subjects. Eight years later it was still considered "worthy of reproduction in marble as a historical subject." Viewers eagerly embraced these faithful portrayals as personal memorials that could take on their intense, private feelings about the war and the men depicted. These individual responses are reflected in the wide variation of critical interpretations of the three men's expressions. In the years after the group was released, writers called Lincoln's face by turns sad and anxious, lit up with hope, and cheerfully approving of Grant's plan. Comments on Stanton's expression ranged from "thoughtful attention," to reflective, to irritable. Even though Rogers marketed the group at the relatively high price of $25, it was one of his most popular works. He produced three versions that show slight variations in the position of Stanton's hands and the position of his head.
Bibliography 
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. The Evening Post, New York, February 7, 1868, p. 2. The Evening Post, New York, May 23, 1868, p. 2. "Art in Boston," The Art Journal, April 1, 1868, n.p. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, September 1869, pp. 329-30. Lossing, Benson J., "The Artist as Historian," The American Historical Record, Vol. 1, no. 6, June, 1872, pp. 16, 242-4. Ingram, J.S., The Centennial Exposition: described and illustrated, being a concise and graphic description of this grand enterprise, commemorative of the First Centennary of American Independence," Philadelphia, Pa: Hubbard Bros., 1876, p. 371. Barck, Dorothy, "Rogers Group in the Museum of the New-York Historical Society," New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 3, October, 1932, p. 74 Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.72-3. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 108, 111, 135, 148, 150, 207, 218-20, 232, 261, 286-7, 294, 299, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-66. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-68. Wallace, David H., "The Art of John Rogers: So Real and So True," American Art Journal, November 1972, pp. 59-70. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 106-7. Rasmussen, William M. S. and Robert S. Tilton. Lee and Grant. Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007.
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group