The School Examination

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 20 1/4 x 13 x 8 1/4 in. ( 51.4 x 33 x 21 cm )
signed: front of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: proper right side of base: "PATENTED JULY 9TH 1867" inscribed: front base: "THE SCHOOL EXAMINATION"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
The only group Rogers issued in 1867, this work represents an examiner evaluating a student at a rural school. He sits with legs crossed, his hat resting comfortably under his chair, and he uses his glasses to point out an error on the pupil's slate, while she raises her hand to her mouth in a gesture of worried perplexity. Though his role is to test the nervous young girl, his expression is sympathetic, and the tilt of his head places him on a level below her, rather than above her in a threatening pose. At the apex of this pyramidal composition is the schoolteacher, who is also being evaluated through her student's performance. She is fashionably dressed and, in the words of a contemporary writer, "pretty enough to kiss." Her arm rests on her young student's shoulder in a comforting gesture, and she holds a book against her chin in a bit of heavy-handed symbolism of the group's theme of learning. The scene depicts a moment of tension, one of the small dramas of young life, but it occurs in the context of a capable and benevolent system. Though this is identified as a rural school, Rogers did not offer a vignette of simple country life with a plainly dressed young woman earnestly teaching barefoot, ragged urchins but, rather, made his group a paean to American education. Rogers' depiction was no doubt influenced by his wife, Hattie. She worked as a schoolteacher before their marriage in 1865, and the artist greatly admired his wife's energy, independence, and high spirits. Rogers' admiration may have been directed at Northern schools in particular; one contemporary writer linked this work to Rogers' subject from the previous year, Uncle Ned's School, in which an elderly African American man at his ramshackle cobbler's bench conducts an ad hoc lesson with a shoeless boy and a girl in patched clothing. The writer suggested that the two sculptures depicted the contrasts between the Northern and Southern school systems in the wake of the Civil War. The School Examination became one of the sculptor's more popular groups. It remained in sales catalogues through 1895, but by that time it may have taken on a different meaning for its viewers. Rather than a tribute to progressive education, it might have evoked nostalgia for a system that was rapidly changing, as the federal government moved to create uniformity throughout the nation's schools in the years after the Civil War.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, New York Historical Society. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Oct. 16, 1867, p. 2. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Nov. 4, 1867, p. 1. "Art in Boston," The Art Journal, April 1, 1868, n.p. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor", American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, New York, September, 1869, pp. 329-30. 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.72-3. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 116-7, 217, 294, 296, 299, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Reif, Rita, "Antiques: Country Sale," New York Times, October 11, 1975, p. 28. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 104-5.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group