The Charity Patient

Object Number: 
Painted plaster with metal parts
Overall: 21 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. ( 55.2 x 33.7 x 19 cm )
signed: center of top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "THE CHARITY PATIENT" inscribed: proper right front of chest of drawers: "PATENTED/DEC 4/1866"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
After the Civil War, Rogers turned to genre scenes from everyday American life, and some of his sculptures addressed social problems. In this work the artist focused on an issue that continues to be of widespread concern: in today's parlance, affordable health care. An elderly physician pauses from mixing prescriptions (still holding the mortar that he uses to grind them) to treat the sick child of an indigent mother. Rogers makes clear from the figures' dress that this is a private appointment before the doctor's day has begun, either because of its urgency or to allow the mother to retain her dignity. The doctor wears a soft cap and a robe. It appears that the woman has wrapped herself and her infant in a blanket, perhaps because of the early hour or in her hurry to reach the doctor. The mother's face expresses her worry over her baby, whose head rests against her shoulder as she holds its tiny hand. The pathos of the scene is conveyed in such details as the doctor's wise and benevolent gaze, his hand gently resting on the baby's head, the baby with its affecting expression of weariness and discomfort, and the mother's gaze back at the physician, tensely awaiting his diagnosis. To modern eyes, the scene may seem melodramatic and calculated to arouse sympathy. However, it partakes of mid-nineteenth-century conventions designed to bring social problems to light and promote action. Sentimental culture encouraged an attachment to home and country, evoked compassion for the less fortunate, and urged action on reform issues. Rogers' image of an individual's kindness to one in need addressed specific concerns about care for the poor, especially those who had lost husbands and providers in the recent civil war. It also evoked the theme of Charity with a capital C, a universal theme that artists had rendered in various guises for hundreds of years. The American sculptor Hiram Powers created a bust titled Charity in 1867, the year after Rogers' The Charity Patient, that vividly illustrates the stark differences between Powers' Neoclassical style and Rogers' realism. While Powers rendered a bust of a lovely classicized woman embodying the ideal of charity, Rogers illustrated a specific example of the quality in action in contemporary life. Rogers' call to social responsibility was warmly received. Harper's Weekly enthused, "the atmosphere about this little group almost glows with love and melts with human pity." The Boston Globe declared that it "can hardly fail to move the stoutest heart." Another writer praised the example of Rogers' doctor "who is as much devoted to the case as if he was about to receive a heavy fee." At the same time, Rogers earned kudos for the sculpture's artistic merits, both when it was released and for years after. In 1880 the art historian S. G. W. Benjamin chose it to exemplify Rogers' oeuvre in his book Art in America, and in 1896 the sculptor and art historian William Ordway Partridge compared it to the "simple and beautiful" works of Renaissance sculptor Donatello. As a masterfully realized composition and an exemplar of neighborly kindness in an increasingly isolated and urban society, The Charity Patient had a long life. It remained in Rogers' sales catalogue for the next thirty years as one of his most popular groups, particularly as a gift for physicians.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 6, 1866, p. 2. The Daily Mercury, New Bedford, Dec. 8, 1866, p. 2. Harper's Weekly, Journal of Civilization, Vol. X, No. 519, December 8, 1866, p. 1. The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 19, 1866, p. 1. The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 22, 1866, p. 1, 2. 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. Benjamin, S.G.W, Art in America: A Critical and Historical Sketch, New York: Harper & Bros., 1880, pp. 158-61. Partridge, William Ordway, "John Rogers, The Peoples Sculptor," The New England Magazine, Feb., 1896, Vol. XIII, No. 6, pp, 705-21. 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. 112, 116-7, 125, 137, 166-7, 216-7, 294, 299, 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. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 102-3.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group