The Foundling

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 20 7/8 x 12 1/2 x 11 1/8 in. ( 53 x 31.8 x 28.3 cm )
signed: proper left top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "THE FOUNDLING"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
After the end of the Civil War, Rogers explored several possibilities for new subjects, among them pressing social issues, as seen in The Foundling of late 1870. In this work a young girl stands outside a vine-covered gate, listening carefully to the scene playing out behind it. Her tattered clothes signal her poverty, and her slight stature and her hair, still in pigtails, indicate her youth. She has left her child in a basket at the gate, and an older man has picked up the infant. He wears a dressing gown and holds a lantern, suggesting that the scene takes place under cover of darkness. He gazes at the baby with a benevolent and bemused look as it grasps his chin in an innocent, trusting gesture. Rogers made a bold choice to confront the issue of illegitimacy directly; though perennial, it would have seldom been a topic of discussion in polite society. Unlike his Civil War groups, it did not address an experience shared by all but, rather, advocated charity and sensitivity toward the less fortunate in difficult circumstances. Critics echoed Rogers' call: the New York Evening Post considered it a fitting segue from Rogers' Civil War groups, declaring him "ingenious and effective in making plastic art the hand-maid of charity, and in thus celebrating the victories of peace." The Boston Daily Evening Transcript observed that Rogers had taken as his new subject "life among the lowly." The writer quoted the subtitle of Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin, which had been a galvanizing force in the abolitionist movement, suggesting that Rogers' sculpture could represent a similar call to action. Another critic reiterated this sentiment, calling it "the story of real life in some of its dark phases," and pointing out that its message could not be disregarded "if we would seek to relieve the poor and rescue the unfortunate." Rogers, himself sensitive and sentimental, was no doubt bolstered by his recent success and moved by compassion to attempt a theme similar to his earlier work The Slave Auction (1928.28) of 1859, which represented not merely a perceptive reflection of contemporary life but also a call for change. Though The Slave Auction had sold poorly because of its controversial subject, a decade later Rogers' established popularity gave him the opportunity to try again. It appears that The Foundling was not among his most commercially successful works, since there are relatively few extant copies today. In spite of its slower sales, Rogers must have considered the sculpture an important part of his oeuvre and his message to the public; though he often dropped less popular works from his sales catalogue if they were poor sellers, this one remained for nearly twenty years. However, Rogers did not continue to pursue such themes. Instead, he turned to the very private and the very public, in the form of domestic life and theatrical scenes.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 3, 4, New York Historical Society. "A New Group by Rogers," The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 14, 1870, p. 2. "Art Matters," Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Dec. 19, 1870, p. 2. 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. 76. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.76-7. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 112, 116, 125, 134, 225-6, 294, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1970, pp. 756-68. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 124-5.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group