Fairy's Whisper

Object Number: 
September 1860
Painted plaster
Overall: 20 3/8 x 28 x 18 in. ( 51.8 x 71.1 x 45.7 cm )
signed: proper right side of base: illegible
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
In April 1859 Rogers returned from a truncated five-month period of study in Paris and Rome, and for the next few years he wavered between realistic subjects from everyday life rendered in plaster and mythological and allegorical subjects carved from the more enduring and admired medium of marble, associated with the long-entrenched neoclassical style in sculpture. In mid-1860 he wrote to his mother that he wanted to do something in marble: "I have a design in my head of a 'sweet thing,'" and he called it his "first attempt at anything ideal." The Fairy's Whisper became his first and only uncommissioned, original ideal subject. This ambitious work depicts a young boy whose play has been arrested by a winged sprite approaching his ear. His reclining pose is distinctly classicized, and the fanciful curves of the fairy's costume gracefully flow into the foliage near his head. Rogers was concerned that the figure be as accurate as possible, and he persuaded young immigrant children to serve as models (he described bribing them with "sugar plums & cents"). [note for quote?] His ambitions for the work are evidenced in its relatively large scale, with the boy rendered life size. The sculpture caught the imagination of critics, who seemed relieved to see this gifted young sculptor taking the well-trodden path of high artistic ideals embodied in mythical subjects. Rogers noticed that everyone who saw it described it using the word "beautiful," and it made a striking contrast to the pointed political message of his controversial plaster The Slave Auction (1928.28) from the previous year. The Boston Daily Evening Transcript noted, "We have seen before several smaller groups designed by him, but none which have borne so decidedly the signs of a true genius." The New-York Daily Tribune trumpeted its praise of Rogers' newfound "genius" and his "extraordinary skill, facility, and power." This praise must have been gratifying, but Rogers faced the fundamental problem of trying to derive some income from his work. He wished to render his subject in marble, but he was discouraged when he realized the project would cost $350, and he would have to charge $600 to make it worth his effort. Ever the pragmatist, he calculated that he could cast the work in plaster for $25 (far less than the price for marble, but five times what he charged for the smaller Slave Auction) and make it available in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, it did not sell well. Rogers eventually turned to subjects from everyday life, paving the way for the movement toward realism in American sculpture.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. New-York Daily Tribune, Sep. 8, 1860, p. 4. "Art Gossip," New York Times, Dec. 29, 1860, n.p. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Nov. 1, 1862, p. 2. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Dec. 1, 1862, p. 1. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, September 1869, pp. 329-30. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.62-3. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 87-9, 100-1, 107-8, 148, 157-8, 190-2, 286, 291, 295, 299-300, 304. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-768. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 62-3, 230.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Miss Katherine Rebecca Rogers
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group