Overall: 8 1/8 x 9 1/2 x 6 7/8 in. ( 20.6 x 24.1 x 17.5 cm )
signed: front of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1860" inscribed: front of base: "CHECKER PLAYERS"
Though his early work The Slave Auction is better known, the subject for The Checker Players marked Rogers' public debut. For many years he had modeled small sculpture groups in clay for family and friends. In 1859, while Rogers was working in Chicago for the city surveyor's office, he was asked to contribute a sculpture to a charity bazaar, and he created a clay model similar to this one, based on an engraving after The Card Players, a painting by the English artist David Wilkie. It was a rousing success, raising $75 and earning Rogers favorable notice in a Chicago newspaper. The Chicagoan Robert Collyer wrote to the sculptor Henry Kirke Brown noting Rogers' success with The Checker Players, praising his "wonderful talent for sculpture." Rogers was encouraged by his success to move to New York later that year, when he produced this more accomplished version of The Checker Players. He exhibited it in 1860 at the National Academy of Design and placed the group for sale at the fancy goods purveyor Williams & Stevens. Rogers wrote optimistically to his aunt, Mrs. Ephraim Peabody, "judging from those who have seen it I think it is going to take." The Checker Players was often mentioned in later years as his first work, and as a humorous scene of domestic life enacted by carefully articulated characters, it is one of his most characteristic. His sales catalogue described the game in progress between young and old players: "It is the old man's turn to move, but he cannot do so without being taken. His antagonist is laughing at his perplexity." Both figures appear to be rural workingmen. The younger has put a smock commonly worn by farmers over his vest and tie; he points out his victorious position on the game board to his bemused older competitor, who appears in work attire without a jacket. In this vignette, the younger man has overtaken the elder with wit and skill, and Rogers may well have identified with the subject in his hopes for triumphing in the New York art world, over his father's objections. Rogers is said to have been an inveterate checkers player, and he returned to the subject in later years with Checkers Up at the Farm of 1875 (1936.629). In the later version, he refined the players' roles and made a more pointed reference to the virtues of rural life. The younger man defeats his older opponent once again, and, while he is still portrayed as a farmer, balancing a hoe in one hand, the older man he defeats is a fashionably dressed urbanite.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. Unattributed Article, Fall 1861, New York Historical Society, Miscellaneous Rogers Materials, Box 6. The Home Journal, New York, Dec. 21, 1861. Tuckerman, Henry T., Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, New York: P. Putnam & Son, 1867, pp. 595-7. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, September 1869, pp. 329-30. Partridge, William Ordway, "John Rogers, The Peoples Sculptor," The New England Magazine, Feb., 1896, Vol. XIII, No. 6, pp. 705-21. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.62-3. Baker, Charles E., "John Rogers As He Depicted American Literature," American Collector, Vol. 13, No. 10, pp. 10-1, 16. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 58, 63, 85, 91, 127, 148, 150, 184-5, 295, 299, 302, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Wallace, David H., "The Art of John Rogers: So Real and So True," American Art Journal, November, 1972, pp. 59-70. Bourdon, David, "The story-telling statuettes of John Rogers, 19th-century people's artist, are being eagerly collected again," Smithsonian, Vol. 6, No. 2, May 1975, pp. 51-7. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-768. Boime, Albert, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990, pp. 104-5, 188-99, 232, 238. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 60-1. Spencer, Bill, "John Rogers' Traveling Magician