The Peddler At The Fair
Overall: 20 1/4 x 18 x 10 1/4 in. ( 51.4 x 45.7 x 26 cm )
signed: center front base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1878" inscribed: proper left top back corner: "PATENTED/DEC.10th.1878" inscribed: front base: "THE PEDDLER AT THE FAIR"
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. In the mid-1870s Rogers assayed a handful of subjects dealing with men who earned their livings as itinerants, whether performers, such as the organ grinder in School Days (1936.642, 1929.101) and The Traveling Magician (1936.637, 1926.35) or a vendor. Here Rogers created what appears at first glance to be a gentle, lighthearted vignette. However, on closer examination, it hints at the unsavory realities of these lower-class professions and the darker side of realism that sometimes showed through the artist's usually upbeat subjects. Nineteenth-century fairs of every kind were populated by traveling peddlers selling merchandise that ranged from dubious medicines to household goods. Rogers' peddler sells jewelry and other baubles, and his wares have caught the interest of a young woman in an elegant dress and feathered hat. She is coaxing her father to buy her a necklace. Her father, also well dressed and wearing a scowl of disapproval, gives in to her whim and digs into his pocket for the purchase price. Critics suggested that his reluctance might be due to irritation at purchasing cheap goods, or simply stinginess. In fact, one columnist with the pseudonym Pax, misinterpreted them as a married couple and used the sculpture as an occasion to urge husbands to be more generous with their wives. Whatever the cause, contemporary writers were quick to recognize the familiar domestic drama that played out between fathers and daughters. In fact, Rogers may have been inspired by a similar incident in his own family, perhaps with his ten-year-old daughter, Katherine. Ever the dedicated realist, Rogers could not entirely gloss over the difficult lives led by itinerant salesmen. He carefully depicted the class differences between the salesman and his customers: they are fashionably dressed, but his clothing is modest and plain. In contrast to the dignified (if disgruntled) demeanor of the father, the peddler looks somewhat clownlike. He has clothed himself in his wares, pinning hair ornaments to his coat and wearing a hat decorated with necklaces. The eagerness in his face as he leans forward suggests that he needs the sale. The year that Rogers released this sculpture, the United States was still recovering from a recession, so the peddler's plight was shared by many others. Given Rogers' long-standing interest in horses, it is both poignant and revealing that he illustrated the peddler's plight through his steed. In contrast to Rogers' earlier depictions of lively, healthy horses, such as those in Going for the Cows (1936.650, 1929.98) and We Boys (1936.711, 1936.661, 1929.96), this one stands passive and dispirited, and from the back the viewer can see that its ribs strain against its skin; the horse is underfed, perhaps like the peddler himself. Though The Peddler at the Fair received glowing reviews, it did not prove very popular, perhaps because Rogers' depiction of the starker realities of the lower classes was considered an unsettling subject for middle-class parlors.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 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. 78. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.88-9. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 119, 134, 245. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 170-1.
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.