Parting Promise

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 21 3/4 x 10 1/4 x 7 3/4 in. ( 55.2 x 26 x 19.7 cm )
signed: proper left top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "PARTING PROMISE"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
Rogers described this group as follows: "A young man is about starting out on a journey, and, on parting from his lady-love puts an engagement ring on her finger." The man leans on a pillar of stones with one foot atop his suitcase, perhaps waiting for his train. He gazes at a well-dressed young woman, who looks at him appealingly as he places the ring on her finger. Rogers created two variations of the scene: in the original version, the man has a mustache that makes him appear older, and the woman's hair is braided down her back, rather than coiled on her head, so that she appears younger. The increased age difference changes the tenor of the scene, perhaps raising doubts about the couple's future. Rogers' poignant subject may strike modern viewers as overly sentimental. Indeed, his depiction of a young maiden nearly swooning on the arm of her soon-to-be-departed lover contrasts with many of the artist's other portrayals of strong, capable women inspired by Rogers' wife, Hattie. Unlike the case with some of his other groups, here Rogers offers very little description of the action taking place, but the poignant theme of separated lovers allowed viewers to spin their own romantic stories. In fact, one writer identified only as M. N. wrote, "We can sit and conjure up romances by the dozen while gazing upon those earnest faces. . . . Will he keep his promise? . . . And will she prove a constant, devoted girl?" The author went on to rhapsodize on the tragic outcome if either of them was lured away by another. Rogers had used this device to good effect in some of his Civil War sculptures, such as The Town Pump (1941.917), Mail Day (1932.97), and Country Postoffice: News from the Army (1929.105, 1936.644), which are sufficiently generalized to allow viewers to identify their individual experiences with the subject and enter into a shared communion. For some, Parting Promise might have functioned as a reminder of such agonized partings during the war of the previous decade, but for M. N. and probably many others, it functioned as a fetish on which the viewer could project his or her romantic fantasies. The sculpture illustrates not only a scene of leave-taking but also the difficulties Rogers faced when trying to balance his dual goals of creating a democratic art that would appeal to a broad audience and maintaining the reputation he had built in the 1860s as an esteemed fine artist. The same year that he produced Parting Promise he exhibited a bust portrait of John E. Williams (Historic New England and Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, Mass.) at the National Academy of Design, the reigning arbiter of nineteenth-century artistic taste. Submitting a work in the traditional genre of portraiture was meant to buttress his reputation in the confines of the artistic community. Also that same year Rogers began to offer free delivery of his sculptures to any express station in the United States, increasing their popularity beyond the East Coast. In keeping with his broader reach, Parting Promise attempted to engage the much larger American public.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. 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. 105, 125, 150, 223, 294, 297, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 118-21.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group