Retrospective of the Sculpture of John Rogers, America’s Unique Artist-Entrepreneur, Returns to the New-York Historical Society after National Tour
John Rogers: American Stories, On View November 2, 2012 – February 17, 2013
NEW YORK, NY, October 29, 2012– By far the most popular American sculptor of his eventful era, John Rogers (1829-1904) was an astute and tireless maker and marketer of artworks for a broad audience. From the beginning of the Civil War to the end of the Gilded Age, he sold more than 80,000 narrative figural groups in plaster, reaching the American public en masse and addressing the issues that most touched their lives. His arresting and memorable subjects included scenes from the front lines and the home front of the Civil War, insightful commentaries on domestic life, and dramatic episodes from the stage and literature. Often selling for $15 apiece, Rogers’s works became commonplace in the homes of middle- and upper-class Americans in the later nineteenth century.
Drawing on its premier collection of Rogers’s work, the New-York Historical Society organized John Rogers: American Stories, the first full retrospective of this singularly influential American artist. The exhibition will feature forty iconic sculptures (including nineteen bronzes), the tools the artist used to create them, and ephemera from Rogers’s collection. To celebrate the return of the exhibition to New York, this presentation will also include two extremely rare Rogers Groups loaned from the Gladys A. Hawkins collection.
A highlight of New-York Historical’s traveling exhibitions program Sharing a National Treasure, John Rogers: American Stories went on tour, echoing Rogers’s spirit as pioneering cultural entrepreneur who used the railroads to market his sculptures cross-country. The show traveled to the Palmer Museum of Art in University Park, PA (February 22 – May 15, 2011), and The Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, TN (June 19 – October 9, 2011). Audiences were able to enjoy and study superb examples of New-York Historical’s Rogers collection—which comprises more than 150 sculptures including thirty-nine master bronzes, letters, photographs, and other materials—while the galleries of New-York Historical were closed for a transformative three-year, $70 million renovation project, completed in November 2011.
“Our mission for the Sharing a National Treasure program is to ensure that audiences throughout the United States have access to the great artworks and priceless artifacts of the New-York Historical Society, New York City’s first museum and one of the nation’s oldest collecting institutions,” stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. “John Rogers made his career in New York, where his unique blend of artistry and entrepreneurship was perfectly suited to the country’s cultural and commercial capital. It is eminently appropriate that the New-York Historical Society should undertake a long-overdue reexamination of his oeuvre.”
The presentation at New-York Historical includes two works that were not on view with the traveling exhibition. John Rogers: American Stories includes his series of episodes from Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, a long-time favorite of nineteenth-century New Yorkers. New-York Historical holds the first and final works of the series, and it will be completed by the rarely-seen middle group, Marguerite and Martha: Trying on the Jewels (1891), loaned by the Gladys A. Hawkins collection. New-York Historical will debut one of Rogers’s earliest extant sculptures, Nightmare (1857), also on loan from the Gladys A. Hawkins collection. This experimental work demonstrates the sculptor’s early mastery, and the kind of mischief and humor that marks his later works, though with a dark twist. Nightmare has not been on public view in decades, and this marks its debut in New York City. It will be on view as part of a special installation of other key Rogers Groups in the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture shortly after the exhibition opens.
“This new look at Rogers’s achievement shows his understanding of the subtle questions facing a nation at war, his embrace of social issues and the sheer delight in American life that earned him the title ‘the people’s sculptor,’” stated Kimberly Orcutt, Henry Luce Foundation Curator of American Art, and the exhibition’s curator.
Speaking of the remarkable appeal of John Rogers’s works to Americans of his era, Linda S. Ferber, Vice President and Senior Art Historian at the New-York Historical Society, stated, “Rogers’s mature career from 1859 to 1893 spanned a period of national trauma and tumultuous change. Throughout it all, this remarkable artist was able to gauge the pulse of popular American life, and his most successful works reflect his countrymen’s dreams, fears, and concerns.”
In addition to presenting a wealth of Rogers’s sculptures, the exhibition will include materials such as mail order catalogues, advertisements, and stereograph views, vividly demonstrating how his works were presented and promoted to the public. Rogers advertised widely, established a factory for large-scale production of his sculptures, and shipped his plasters to vendors and buyers across the country at a time when the average American had little access to original works of art.
The exhibition coincides with the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, and among the most striking of Rogers’ works on view are the war-related sculptures that won him his first great success. These works encompass a wide range of moods, from the profound to the humorous, addressing heroism at the battlefront, scenes of camp life, sensitive questions of race, and the dangers and complexities of life on the home front. Most of them celebrate the anonymous soldier and the families behind the lines dealing with a changed world.
John Rogers: American Stories is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue edited by Kimberly Orcutt with essay contributions by Melissa Dabakis, Jessica Fracassini, Leslie Ransick Gat, David Jaffee, Michael Leja, Leo G. Mazow, Kirk Savage, Thayer Tolles, and Erin Toomey. The exhibition is also accompanied by an interactive audio tour and a permanent website featuring detailed entries on the Rogers works in the New-York Historical Society collection, a chronology, image galleries, examples of ads and sales catalogues, ephemera, selected letters, and a diagram showing how Rogers made his sculptures.
John Rogers: American Stories is made possible, in part, by the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support was also provided by Joanne Witty and Eugene Keilin, Sharron Eisenthal and Sol Schreiber, and Ian Berke.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.
New-York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions, such as Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; Slavery in New York; Drawn by New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings at the New-York Historical Society; Grant and Lee in War and Peace; Lincoln and New York; Nueva York and Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs is one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York. From October 5, 2012 through May 27, 2013, New-York Historical is presenting WWII & NYC, a major new exhibition on the most widespread, destructive, and consequential conflict in history. WWII & NYC will restore to memory New York’s crucial and multifaceted role in winning the war, the exhibition will commemorate the 900,000 New Yorkers who served in the military while also exploring the many ways in which those who remained on the home front contributed to the national war effort. Also on view until February 21, 2013 is Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School.
New-York Historical Society Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors
Laura Washington Sarah Buffum
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