Neighboring Pews

Object Number: 
December 1883
Overall: 18 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 12 1/4 in. ( 47 x 40 x 31.1 cm )
signed: proper right side of top of the base: "JOHN ROGERS/ NEW YORK/1883" inscribed: on back-proper left pew: "PATENTED JAN.29/1884." inscribed: front of base: "NEIGHBORING PEWS"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. While Rogers was developing his life-size equestrian statue of General John Fulton Reynolds (which still stands outside Philadelphia's City Hall), he continued to work on the smaller groups that made his fame. His output during the late 1870s and 1880s alternated between theatrical vignettes from the works of Shakespeare and scenes of country life, often inspired by his experiences in the village of New Canaan, Connecticut, where he had lived since the late 1870s. Neighboring Pews combines Rogers' flair for domestic drama with the recurring theme of love and flirtation. Twenty-first-century viewers might mistake the scene for a nostalgic portrayal of an earlier, simpler rural existence. However, rather than receding into the past, Rogers' scene depicts contemporary life and its foibles. He took care to clothe his figures in the fashions of the day, and even the pew bears the Gothic Revival style that was then popular in ecclesiastical architecture and the decorative arts. Rogers shows two women arriving late to church. The man behind them indicates to the younger of the two the proper place in the hymnal to join in the singing, and her elderly companion is, in Rogers' words, "indignant at the preference shown." The young woman is modestly but fashionably dressed with a nosegay on her shoulder, and her hat is adorned with a beautifully curling feather that echoes her carefully coiffed hair. She smiles sweetly at the handsome man who solicitously points out the correct page. The seated older woman glares at her, and Rogers conveys that her irritation is not because she considers such flirtation improper, but because she is not the object of the young man's courtesy. She, too, is dressed to attract attention, with ruffles at her hem and collar, a lacy shawl, a bonnet bedecked with a large bow, and curls at her temples as artful as those of her young charge. Meanwhile, in the pew ahead of them, a small boy reclines wearing his father's hat, preoccupied with trying on his gloves. During this period Rogers began to examine the dynamics between younger and older generations in this and other groups such as A Matter of Opinion (1929.88, 1948.420) and A Frolic at the Old Homestead (1936.631, 1929.104). The figures represented in Neighboring Pews range from childhood and youth to old age. A writer for the Southern World understood the artist's intention, noting that the scene spanned "manly politeness and boyish mischief." As a fifty-four-year-old man with both an elderly father and children approaching adulthood, Rogers was sensitive to intergenerational dynamics. Just as the figures enter each other's spaces with their twisting motions, looks, and gestures, the artist suggests how communal ties bring them together in shared experiences and, in this case, a bit of jealousy and a gently humorous satire of feminine vanity. His model for the older woman was a Mrs. Allen, who summered in a cottage across the road from Rogers' home. His daughter described her as "the happy second wife of a second husband," and one can imagine the amusement a merry soul might find in posing with such a comically sour expression. Rogers released his sculpture in time for Christmas shopping, and newspapers enthusiastically recommended it as a gift, particularly for pastors. It became one of his most popular groups; a remarkable accomplishment given its late date, as opposed to earlier popular groups such as Coming to the Parson (1936.649, 1929.102, INV.710, 1948.411) that had enjoyed prodigious sales for many years. Neighboring Pews was praised for its careful balance of humor and dignity. As one Pennsylvania newspaper put it: "it is delineated with a touch of humor which while doing no violence to propriety in the treatment of the subject." By this period, however, Rogers faced increasing criticism for his sculptures' inoffensive crowd-pleasing character, which some read as blandness.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. "Work Without Pay," The Studio, New York, Vol. 11, No. 41, October 13, 1883, p.1. 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.92-3. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 114, 116, 125, 250, 294. 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. 186-7.
Credit Line: 
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group