Fighting Bob

Object Number: 
Painted plaster with lead parts
Overall: 33 3/4 x 10 x 9 1/2 in. ( 85.7 x 25.4 x 24.1 cm )
signed: proper front corner of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "FIGHTING BOB"
Theatrical figure.
Gallery Label: 
Rogers' later oeuvre includes a number of scenes from popular plays of his day. Among his first successes in this arena were three 1871 vignettes from the popular production of Washington Irving's tale "Rip Van Winkle," starring the famed comic actor Joseph Jefferson. In 1888 a revival of Robert Sheridan's perennial favorite The Rivals was staged in New York with Jefferson in the starring role as Bob Acres. Nearly twenty years after the Rip series, Rogers turned to Jefferson again as a model. The Irish playwright Robert Sheridan wrote his comedy of manners The Rivals in 1775, and it became a standard of English and American repertoire throughout the nineteenth century; even before that, it is said that The Rivals was George Washington's favorite play. The complicated plot involves multiple suitors vying for the same woman, and the action climaxes in a duel between Bob and the suitor known as Beverly. Cowardly Bob has asked a friend to represent him as a fierce opponent, hoping to frighten his challenger into withdrawing. He directs his friend to say that he is known as "Fighting Bob." Rogers depicts the moment when Bob appears for the duel, terrified, only to find that "Beverly" is a friend who has been wooing under an assumed name. Rogers' correspondence shows how collaboratively he worked with Jefferson. The actor wrote to Rogers in December 1888 saying that he could sit for the sculptor in January. Apparently, Rogers also used a photograph of Jefferson in character though not in costume as well as a commercial photograph of him in costume in the same pose as the final sculpture. When Jefferson saw the clay model, he wrote that though the work was admirable, "it looks like a man who would fight instead of a man who would rather not. This renders the figure less humorous than if he was trying to look bold." Rogers must have made adjustments based on Jefferson's comments, since the actor later pronounced the final version a success. At a height of thirty-four inches, Fighting Bob is Rogers' tallest indoor group. Rather than presenting a scene with several characters as he had done with his other theatrical groups, the artist concentrated on a monumental single figure of the celebrity actor. "Bob" leans back in hesitation with his eyes opened wide, revealing the terror beneath his bluster. He holds two pistols instead of one in a further show of bravado, which is at odds with his dandified eighteenth-century costume: the lace cascading from his sleeves and the bows on his boots make a comic contrast to his earlier threats. Rogers' depiction struck a chord with viewers; one Chicago writer commented that "the expression of absolute terror in 'Bob's' countenance is true to Jefferson's impersonation of the character," and another marveled, "It is Jefferson to the life, pistols and all. You can hear him say [a line from the play], "Tell them I generally kill a gentleman before breakfast."
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 1, New York Historical Society. "The National Academy of Design," The Critic, Nov. 24, 1889, pp. 260-1. 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.98-9. 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, 262-3, 295, 297, 300. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Catalogue of American Portraits in The New-York Historical Society, New Haven: Yale University Press, Vol. 2, 1974, pp. 398-9. 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. 208-9, 232.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group