Fetching The Doctor

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 15 3/4 x 16 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. ( 40 x 41.9 x 14 cm )
signed: proper right front corner of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK 1881" inscribed: front of base: "FETCHING THE DOCTOR" inscribed: back of base: "PATENTED DEC. 6th 1881"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
Rogers' catalogue describes the scene: "The boy has been sent in haste for the country doctor, who has ventured to return seated behind him on the horse. His medicine is in some danger of begin spilled as well as himself." The urgency of the errand is conveyed not only in the doctor's open bag with its bottles bouncing inside; he also literally holds on to his hat to keep it from flying off. Both man and boy have risen out of their seats, suggesting the horse's great speed as they gallop along, and even the horse seems to sense the peril of the loved one at home, as its eyes bulge in panic. Rogers had long been acclaimed for his mastery in depicting horses, and critics were quick to praise the skill he showed with this equine. It was identified as a Morgan, a distinctly American breed known for its compact build and companionable nature. Its large eyes and expressive face made it a perfect choice for this dramatic episode. Rogers carefully studied horses, taking detailed measurements and making anatomical casts from specimens at the New York College of Veterinary Medicine. He also studied Eadweard Muybridge's stop-action photographs of horses in motion. The Morgan's legs are positioned according to Muybridge's findings, not splayed with all four feet off the ground, as artists had previously rendered them, and as Rogers had done just a few years earlier in his 1879 sculpture Polo (1927.50, 1948.409). In 1877 Rogers built a house in rural New Canaan, Connecticut, and this subject was inspired by a Dr. Richards of that town who rode and carried medicines in his saddlebags. The boy was modeled after the artist's nine-year-old son Derby. Though twenty-first-century viewers might mistakenly see this as a nostalgic image, contemporary writers were quick to recognize that Rogers was contrasting city and country life of the present day and pointing out the new conveniences and technologies that were widening the gulf between them. A Baltimore newspaper explained, "Nothing can be more real to those who know the ways of our rural regions. In our cities, the boy who goes for the doctor is now the telephone, and our M.D. rides up in his two-horse carriage." However, the sculpture does suggest a sense of nostalgia with regard to the artist's own oeuvre. In the years just before creating this work, Rogers had been engaged with large-scale theatrical subjects taken from Shakespeare that were embellished with a wealth of surface detail. In Fetching the Doctor the artist returned to his earlier rural themes of boys with horses from nearly a decade before, such as We Boys (1929.96, 1936.661, 1936.711) and Going for the Cows (1929.98, 1936.650) of 1872. The current group shares their smaller size, relatively simple characterization, and unadorned surfaces, though here the sculptor introduced a note of drama, showing the effects of his recent immersion in theatrical scenes. Fetching the Doctor was priced at $10, half the cost of his recent groups. As his works grew larger, more elaborate, and more expensive, it may be that Rogers returned to his beloved small genre scenes to assure his clients that he would continue to offer sculpture that was truly affordable to a broad audience, in keeping with his early aspirations.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 4, New York Historical Society. 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.90-1. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 119, 248, 294, 304. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1970, pp. 756-68. Schatzki, Stefan C., "Medicine in American Art: Fetching the Doctor", American Roentgen Ray Society, Cambridge, MA, August 1992, p. 262. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 182-3.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group