Courtship In Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 16 3/8 x 14 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. ( 41.6 x 37.5 x 21.6 cm )
signed: proper right top of base-obscured by paint: "JOHN ROGERS/ NEW YORK" inscribed: back of base: "PATENTED" INSCRIBED: front of base: "COURTSHIP IN SLEEPY HOLLOW/ICHABOD CRANE AND KATRINA VAN TASEL" [partially obscured by paint]
Gallery Label: 
From his earliest days as a sculptor, Rogers expressed an interest in literary and theatrical themes; his letters from the 1850s mention such subjects as Robinson Crusoe, Friar Tuck, and Pocahontas (though none is extant). Rogers also discussed such popular authors as John Greenleaf Whittier, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charles Dickens. Though he did not specifically mention Washington Irving, this revered American writer was to play an important role in Rogers' oeuvre. Courtship in Sleepy Hollow is his first surviving literary subject and marks his professional debut as a sculptor of such themes. Rogers chose a scene from Irving's 1820 story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Irving's narrative, adapted from a German folktale, is a gothic mixture of humor and horror set in 1790 in Sleepy Hollow, a glen of the Dutch settlement of Tarrytown along the Hudson River. The superstitious Connecticut schoolteacher Ichabod Crane competes with the local man Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel. As Crane leaves a party at the Van Tassel home on an autumn night, he is pursued by the Headless Horseman, said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper whose head was shot off by a stray cannonball during the American Revolutionary War, who "rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head." Ichabod mysteriously disappears from town, leaving Katrina to marry Brom Bones. Rogers had considered the subject in 1862, but since the artist F. O. C. Darley had already illustrated the story to great acclaim in 1849, he wrote, "I am afraid I can make nothing very original out of it." However, six years and numerous successes later, he had gained the confidence to attempt his own interpretation. He chose a comic moment when the awkward Crane attempts to woo Katrina Van Tassel. He depicted Crane's tall, lanky frame folded onto a Dutch settle (a period detail that Rogers pointed out in his description of the group). In contrast to Darley's depiction of the couple outdoors, with Ichabod leaning wistfully on a tree branch slightly behind Katrina, Rogers moved the scene indoors and placed the two side by side, with Ichabod engaging her directly. Contemporary newspapers enjoyed matching Roger's faithful rendering of Crane to Irving's description: "tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves. . . . His head was small, and flat at the top, with large ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock, perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew." Crane leans toward the plump and petite Katrina, who exudes what a contemporary writer described as "a mixture of coquettish shrewdness and real good nature." Rogers released Courtship in Sleepy Hollow for Christmas 1868, along with his monument to the Civil War leaders Ulysses S. Grant, Edwin M. Stanton, and Abraham Lincoln, titled The Council of War. As early as 1862 Rogers had anticipated the need for a new artistic direction after the war, and this pairing marked a transition from his final Civil War subjects toward literary and theatrical themes (as well as domestic genre scenes). In the 1870s and 1880s he developed other subjects from Irving, as well as from Shakespeare and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The public embraced Rogers' foray into the city's mythologized Knickerbocker past; it seems that the sculptor and his audience were only too glad to contemplate bygone times that, though full of strange terrors, offered an escape from the trauma of the Civil War and the trials of Reconstruction.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. Daily Evening Transcript, Bosoton, October 22, 1868, p. 2. "Fine Arts," The Albion, New York, November 28, 1868, p. 574. The New York Evening Mail, December 18, 1869, p. 2. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, September 1869, pp. 329-30. 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.74-5. 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. 109, 220, 294, 298, 299, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 24-27, 112-3.
Credit Line: 
Purchase, James Hazen Hyde Fund
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group