Landing Of The Norsemen
Overall: 48 x 29 1/2 x 29 in. ( 121.9 x 74.9 x 73.7 cm )
signed: proper right front corner: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1893" inscribed: center front of base: "Landing of the Norsemen"
Landing of the Norsemen is the sculptor's last effort and the final flowering of his technical and narrative talents. In February 1893 Rogers announced that he had sold the rights to his groups to William Brush, longtime foreman of his plaster shop (the subsequent Rogers Statuette Co. was short-lived, publishing its last known catalogue in 1895). Rogers explained that he was relinquishing that part of his business so that he could concentrate on his "studio work," that is, larger sculptures of famous men and historical subjects. Unfortunately, he had begun to suffer from a palsy that made it increasingly difficult to work, and this is the only product of his retirement. It was intended not for mass reproduction, but for individual sale, to be placed in public buildings or outdoor spaces. Rogers chose as his subject a party of Vikings arriving on North American shores. The artist undertook his usual meticulous research so that he could render the scene as accurately as possible. He contacted Professor William H. Carpenter of Columbia College for advice on aspects of the design, in particular the runic inscription for the shield that one of the Vikings carries. A circular that Rogers distributed to promote the sculpture describes Nordic expeditions to the North American continent around the year 1000 and the dangers they faced from the native peoples they encountered. These Vikings have just debarked from their vessel and are preparing to resist an attack. The artist pointed out that the boat and all the details of the group were modeled after actual relics found in Viking burial mounds. The principal figure stands in a stalwart, heroic pose, garbed in chain mail over a tunic with a sinuous pattern at the hem and sleeves. A horn is slung around his chest, and he holds a sword, ready to meet an attacker. His other hand rests on the fierce-looking dragon's head that embellishes his boat, a conflation of an ornament that would usually appear on the prow of a ship with the small boat used for landing. Behind him are two comrades. One is armed with an axe and shield bearing a line from the ninth-century poem Havamal: "Fair Fame never Dies." The other is bare to the waist. Rogers' work of the preceding few years had become smaller and less detailed, perhaps owing to his growing infirmity, making it all the more astonishing to see the rich textures of the Vikings' costumes and weapons and the fantastically fierce yet decorative dragon's head. The modeling of the musculature is equal to that in any of the artist's previous work. In an interesting departure, parts of the sculpture, such as the men's hair and the ground, show a slightly rougher, broader treatment. The detail in the costumes indicates that in spite of his palsy Rogers was still capable of fine work, and it is likely that the freer handling of specific parts of the sculpture is a conscious choice, producing an effect that is surprisingly fresh and modern in relation to his earlier work. Rogers' oeuvre encompassed a variety of themes, including the Civil War groups that established his fame, genre scenes of everyday American life, and subjects taken from popular theater of the day. This final work represents a historical event, a subject traditionally classed among the loftiest themes an artist could attempt. Rogers had pursued such themes during his late career without the success he had hoped for. As early as 1871 he had made designs for a large Revolutionary War sculpture that he called "Camp Fires of the Revolution." In the late 1880s he attempted other designs for monumental sculptures that did not come to fruition, including "John Eliot Preaching to the Indians" and the "Stamford Memorial," which celebrated the purchase of the Connecticut site from the Indians in 1642. Rogers exhibited Landing of the Norsemen at the National Academy of Design in 1893. Recognizing this as a closing moment in his career, the academy gave him a small retrospective in conjunction with its annual fall exhibition, comprising eight plasters and eighteen of the master bronzes he used to make his plasters. The large bronze earned high praise from the New York Times critic Charles de Kay, who observed that even while it was in development, the modeling was "cleverer" than that of Rogers' earlier works. When it was completed, de Kay called it "spirited . . . true to possibilities, very well composed." Rogers lent the work the following year to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., where it remained until 1901. He then sent it, along with several of his master bronzes, to the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum), where they remained for almost thirty years. No versions of this final effort were sold, making Landing of the Norsemen a rare example of an absolutely unique Rogers sculpture.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 2, New York Historical Society. "Art Notes," The Critic, June 10, 1893, pp. 391-2. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 165, 272, 296. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366.
Gift of Miss Katherine Rebecca Rogers
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.