The Referee

Object Number: 
Painted plaster with metal parts
Overall: 21 3/4 x 12 1/2 x 10 3/4 in. ( 55.2 x 31.8 x 27.3 cm )
signed: proper left top side of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1880" inscribed: front of base: "THE REFEREE"
Genre figure
Gallery Label: 
The Referee typifies the good-natured humor and technical sophistication of Rogers' late oeuvre. Two young women are disputing which one is the taller, and they have recruited an older man to settle their argument, who, with hat and umbrella in hand, appears to be leaving. He stops to adjudicate, but his attempt is impeded by the women's elaborate hairstyles and the fact that one of them is standing on tiptoes to exaggerate her height, her mischievous expression betraying her. As Rogers did in many of his other works, he made the joke subtle but clear enough to the careful and observant viewer. However, in this case, his humor had a private element as well: the women were modeled after Rogers' sisters Frances and Elizabeth (Fannie and Bessie) who were identical twins, and therefore exactly the same height. The artist chose a relatively simple composition, placing the two rivals back to back with the "referee" behind them. However, he showed his skills as a mature artist by adding visual interest. Rogers Groups usually included sufficient detail to merit viewing from all sides, but the artist clearly indicated the front view of the sculpture by placing the title on the base. In this case, the title does not orient the viewer to the expected straightforward view of the two young women. Rather, it is at a forty-five-degree angle, offering a three-quarter view of one of them and a one-quarter view of the one standing on her toes. In this way, Rogers playfully half conceals her ploy and invites closer examination. In addition, Rogers clothed his figures not in contemporary clothing according to his usual practice, but in eighteenth-century dress, as he was careful to note in his sales catalogue. It is not clear why Rogers chose period attire. He may have been moved by new interest in the eighteenth century inspired by the national centennial celebrations four years before in 1876, or he may have enjoyed depicting the elaborate costumes in his theatrical groups from the previous few years and wanted extend his interest to genre subjects, as he had in Private Theatricals: Last Moments behind the Scenes of 1878 (1929.91). Whatever the reason, contemporary writers noted the costumes with interest. The Kentucky publication Home and Farm lauded Rogers' talents as a couturier, lightheartedly comparing him to a famed Parisian dressmaker: "We are convinced by these representations that Worth lost a formidable competitor, and the world a genuine modiste, when Destiny made a sculptor of Mr. Rogers."
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 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. 90-1. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 247, 295-6, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 178-9.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group