The First Ride

Object Number: 
June 1888
Overall: 17 1/2 x 16 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. ( 44.4 x 41.9 x 26 cm )
signed: top center of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "THE FIRST RIDE" inscribed: top back of base: "PATENT.SEP.4TH. 1888"
Genre figure: Lady without hat.
Gallery Label: 
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. Rogers returned to the subject of country life periodically throughout his career, and this sculpture represents his last effort in this vein. His sales catalogue describes the scene: "The mother and child are visiting the country and the little boy is having his first experience on the back of the farmer's horse." In his characteristic manner, Rogers illuminated the story through careful detail: the farmer is in shirtsleeves and wearing boots, and his horse is in harness for field work. The fashionably dressed young mother from the city, said to be modeled after the artist's wife, Hattie, wears an elaborately decorated hat. In Rogers' original conception for the group, she was bareheaded; the hat did not appear in his patent application, on the master bronze from which the sculptures were produced, or in an early promotional drawing. It may be that the artist added the hat to make clear her citified origins. In contrast to the gentle indifference of the horse idly chewing some greenery on the ground, the boy's face is alight with excitement at the adventure. In revisiting the subject of rural life, a tried-and-true theme for Rogers, he drew from his experience living in the village of New Canaan, Connecticut, his home for the previous decade. In this and such groups as We Boys (1929.96, 1936.661, 1936.711), Going for the Cows (1929.98, 1936.650), and Fetching the Doctor (1929.95, 1936.628), Rogers offered a nuanced vision of the country, not a strictly nostalgic view of a lost way of life but, rather, scenes of contemporary rural life that continued outside the confines of the city. He occasionally chose moments of contact between city and country that depict rural virtues, as in Checkers Up at the Farm (1936.629, 1928.29), in which a well-dressed urban visitor is bested by a strapping country lad's native cleverness. Here, the merits of country life are extolled once again as a mother brings her son to experience a simple country pleasure, perhaps even a rite of passage, that is more thrilling to him than any offered in the metropolis. Though the group is not retrospective in subject, it does suggest a sense of nostalgia with regard to the artist's own oeuvre. For more than a decade before making this work, Rogers was engaged with large-scale theatrical subjects taken from Shakespeare that he embellished with a wealth of surface detail. In The First Ride he not only harked back to his earlier themes, but he also returned to his earlier style of relatively simple characterization and unadorned surfaces. It appears that The First Ride was not very successful commercially, and it marks a moment of decline in Rogers' career. After more than a quarter century of national popularity, his work was losing its appeal. In 1888, the year that he produced The First Ride, he closed his lavish showroom on Union Square in New York and reduced prices on a number of his groups, a move that suggests that sales were down. The artist formally retired five years later.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 1, 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.96-7. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 116-7, 119, 260, 295, 300. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 204-5.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Miss Katherine Rebecca Rogers, daughter of the artist
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group