The Mock Trial: Argument for the Prosecution

Object Number: 
Painted plaster and/or terracotta
Overall: 22 x 20 5/8 x 11 1/2 in. ( 55.9 x 52.4 x 29.2 cm )
signed: center top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1877" inscribed: front of base: "THE MOCK TRIAL/ARGUMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
In the 1870s and 1880s Rogers explored two different types of subject matter: genre themes taken from everyday life and scenes from popular plays. In a few groups he combined the two, depicting theatrical amusements in the home. Rogers was a fan of theater in both public and private settings, and he was inspired to model this scene after seeing an amateur play acted out in a friend's parlor. Such home theatricals were a common form of entertainment in the late nineteenth century. Rogers' playacting subject takes the form of a trial, and as he described it, "a young man is charged with committing some offense. The lady, who takes the part of prosecuting attorney, is delivering such a withering sarcastic argument to the judge against the prisoner, that he turns round for protection to the young lady policeman who has him in charge." The scene is set in a large rectangular space that suggests a stage, and all the actors play their parts earnestly, though the merriment at the heart of their production cannot be concealed. The artist created a pyramidal composition with the judge, appropriately enough, at the pinnacle. Viewing the sculpture from behind offers a "backstage" look at the makeshift theater, showing that his bench is composed of two chairs with a board between them, and a curtain rod has been placed across. The "judge" gazes down sternly on the accused kneeling below, whose expression of mock terror forms the focal point of the sculpture. As a prisoner, his hands are tied with a scarf, and the female police officer to whom he appeals at left holds a baton and looks at him compassionately. At right the female prosecutor (modeled after Rogers' sister Laura) delivers her impassioned case to the judge with her head thrown back and her mouth open, as if in mid-sentence. The interlocking gazes create a lively composition suggesting a climactic moment in their domestic drama. The Mock Trial, with its large size and complexity, heralds a period of increasing ambition in Rogers' work. During this time he attempted ever more complicated compositions and demonstrated his growing mastery of his medium with greater detail in textures, as can be seen in the embroidery on the prosecutor's costume, and with heightened emotions, evident in the intensity of the facial expressions. Works like this also show Rogers' self-awareness about the nature of his work. They inhabit a middle ground between his acclaimed theater scenes and his beloved genre groups. Where Rogers had previously offered numerous depictions of children at play, this is the first of many scenes of adults entertaining themselves, in this case by putting on their own "play," in both senses of the word. The subject of home amusements holds a mirror to both Rogers' work and his viewers. His genre scenes up to this point were generally set outside the home, but this new subject depicted an amusement that would take place in a parlor, the room where Rogers Groups were typically placed. The viewer of his earlier domestic and theater subjects is unquestionably that, a witness to a scene taking place outside his or her domain. But this tableau puts the viewer into the scene, since he or she would probably view the sculpture in a parlor where just such an entertainment might take place. As Rogers' abilities as a sculptor grew, he strove for increasing realism in his subjects and a closer connection with his viewers' lives, not appealing to earlier times or other places but engaging them in their homes and at their everyday amusements.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 4, New York Historical Society. "Personal," Harper's Weekly, New York, June 2, 1877, p. 423. "Art Notes," New York Daily Graphic, May 11, 1877, p. 203. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.84-5. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 242, 295, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 160-1.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group