The Balcony

Object Number: 
June 1879
Overall: 32 x 14 3/4 x 11 in. ( 81.3 x 37.5 x 27.9 cm )
signed: top center of base: "14 W 12 ST/JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1879" inscribed: front of base: "THE BALCONY" inscribed: proper right of base: "PATENTED NOV 4th/1879"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. One of Rogers' largest and most accomplished groups, The Balcony showcases the mature sculptor's skills. Every surface is embellished with remarkable detail and texture, including hair, fabrics, and an elaborate iron railing resting on an ivy-covered stone base. It stands as a landmark of the size and high quality of sculpture that could be reproduced in plaster for large-scale distribution in the late nineteenth century. It was also Rogers' tallest plaster to date, in keeping with the growing technical ambition that marked his late career. Rogers depicted a well-to-do matron who has emerged from her home. She holds her son as he leans down to bestow a few coins on two young street musicians below. The woman's flowing headdress gives her the appearance of a benevolent Madonna. Both she and her boy are dressed in fine clothes that connote their status, as does the richly decorated railing. On the street level, the children have finished their song and await their reward. The girl bids her dog to sit still on his hind legs with a piece of meat balanced on his nose; even he must perform to earn his keep. As Rogers often did, he turned to his children for models; in this case he used his daughter Katherine and his son Charles. [names correct as interpolated?] Rogers sometimes included famous actors and political figures in his sculptures, and here the dog is something of a celebrity: contemporary newspapers noted that Quiz, who sat for the sculpture, was a Scotch terrier from Queen Victoria's royal kennels who belonged to a visiting cousin of the artist's wife. The dog was noted for his ability to perform the trick that Rogers depicted of sitting patiently on his hind legs with a tempting morsel on his nose. The piece alluded to the virtue of charity, a subject that artists traditionally presented in an idealized or historical guise. Rogers addressed the subject explicitly in his 1866 The Charity Patient (1936.648, 1929.99), which shows a private transaction between a doctor and an anxious mother. In The Balcony, however, the message may have hit uncomfortably close to home, since Rogers made painfully clear the gulf separating rich and poor. Indeed, contemporary periodicals commented that this scene was played out every day on the streets of New York. The mother presides over the scene at a remarkable height. She and her son are quite literally on a pedestal above the less fortunates below; their clothes may be ragged, but they appear well fed and picturesquely happy with their vagabond life. Rogers presented them as innocents deserving of compassion, but he downplayed the difficulties of their lives. He was not alone in taking a sentimental view of the poor. Many late-nineteenth-century artists did not embrace social issues during this period or, if they did, only very obliquely. For instance, Rogers' friend J. G. Brown was well known for painting sympathetic ragamuffin bootblacks and newsboys. Rogers' sculpture was both praised and criticized, not for the realism of its subject, but for its execution, as writers discussed the astounding detail with which the figures were rendered. The artist considered this one of his major works; The Balcony inaugurated the opening of his new showroom at 23 Union Square, and he displayed it at the National Academy of Design's 1880 annual. However, by that time he was a mature sculptor whose style did not follow the new trend toward a more suggestive and less explicitly detailed form of realism, and his work attracted little critical attention.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 4, New York Historical Society. New York Herald, June 6, 1879, p. 6. New York Evening Mail, June 7, 1879, p. 4. Daily Evening Transcript, June 7, 1879, p. 6. The Art Amateur, Dec. 1, 1879, p. 11. The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 2, 1879, p. 3. 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.88-9. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 117, 246, 295, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 174-5.
Credit Line: 
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group