Mail Day

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 15 1/2 x 8 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. ( 39.4 x 22.2 x 21.6 cm )
inscribed: back of base-obscured by paint: "PATENTED APRIL 10 186.." inscribed: front of base: "MAIL DAY"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
After his successful Civil War subject Country Postoffice: News from the Army (1929.105, 1936.644), showing a young woman anxious to read a letter being carefully examined by the local postmaster, Rogers was stumped for ideas for another group to add to his offerings for Christmas 1863. In September he wrote almost apologetically to his mother, "I am now at work on a single figure, which does not amount to much, till I can think of something more satisfactory." Mail Day went on sale in time for the holidays. Rogers employed an unusual single-figure format to depict a soldier seated with a writing board on his lap. With pen in one hand and inkpot in the other, he scratches his chin and raises his eyes to the sky, waiting for inspiration. In the artist's words, "It is the day for the mail to close, and a soldier is puzzling his brains so as to complete his letter in time." The subject is at least somewhat autobiographical; Rogers often confessed that he had difficulty thinking of what to write about in his letters home, and the soldier's perplexity mirrored Rogers' own as he searched for his next subject. The artist seemed concerned that the single figure would not have enough presence to hold its own in the company of his larger and more complex subjects; the writing board bisects the composition and adds an element of horizontality, and the soldier's overcoat flows off his shoulders and away from his body, adding further width. In spite of Rogers' concerns, the New York Times art critic Charles de Kay called Mail Day the best of Rogers' Civil War groups, citing its humor, strong composition, and good modeling. Depicting the soldier whose letter was so eagerly awaited, Mail Day was intended as a companion to Country Postoffice: News from the Army (1929.105, 1936.644). However, the two were rarely mentioned together in contemporary accounts. Perhaps this was because the two groups bore almost no visual relation to one another. Country Postoffice is four inches taller and, with its two figures and many accessories, is far more complex than the lone soldier with little more than his writing board and his thoughts. Though sales records have not survived, Mail Day is now rarer than Country Postoffice, suggesting that not many copies were sold because it was not very popular. When Rogers later attempted pairs or series of sculptures, he established strong visual and narrative links among them, as he did in The Photographer (1928.27) and The Sitter (1928.26), and his series of three episodes from the story of Rip Van Winkle (1936.651-.653).
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. Tuckerman, Henry T., Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, New York: P. Putnam & Son, 1867, pp. 595-7. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, New York, September, 1869, pp. 329-30. 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.68-9. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 100, 148, 210, 295, 297, 299, 304. Wallace, David H., "The Art of John Rogers: So Real and So True," American Art Journal, November, 1972, pp. 59-70. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-68. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 86-7. Clapper, Michael, "Reconstructing a Family: John Rogers's Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations," Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 2004, pp. 259-78.
Credit Line: 
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group