The Shaughraun and "Tatters"
Overall: 19 5/8 x 11 x 8 1/4 in. ( 49.8 x 27.9 x 21 cm )
signed: on lower stone, front of wall: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "THE SHAUGRAUN AND 'TATTERS'" inscribed: "PATENTED MAR.2 1875"
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. Rogers' later oeuvre includes a number of scenes from popular plays of his day. The sculptor enjoyed great success with his series of three works based on the stage version of Washington Irving's tale "Rip Van Winkle." The play was written by the Irish actor, playwright, and producer Dion Boucicault and presented at New York's Olympia Theater in 1866. Rogers probably met Boucicault while at work on the Rip Van Winkle series, and the artist began this vignette from Boucicault's 1874 play The Shaughraun very soon after it opened. Boucicault wrote and starred in The Shaughraun, a play set in present-day Ireland centering on the fortunes of the siblings Robert and Claire Ffolliott. The local squire Corry Kinchela schemes to acquire their family estate, as well as Robert's fiancée. He sets up Robert to be arrested as a Fenian (a supporter of Irish independence) and exiled to Australia. The English officer Captain Molineux enters the action in search of Fenians and becomes enamored of Claire. Robert's boyhood friend Conn (the Shaughraun) comes to his aid. In a series of kidnappings, escapes, last-minute rescues by Conn, and even Conn's feigned death, at the play's end Robert is a free man, Molineux and Claire Ffolliott will marry, and the Fenians are granted general amnesty. The play opened at Wallack's Theater on November 14, 1874, to uniformly enthusiastic reviews and enjoyed an exceptionally long run of 143 performances. Boucicault sat for Rogers in December, as did the dog who played the role of Tatters (Rogers' sketchbook, 1955.275, includes measurements and a sketch). As he did with his Rip Van Winkle series, Rogers focused on the single figure, rather than creating a multifigure composition. He depicted Conn describing "how he made his dog perform to amuse the soldiers outside the prison where his master [Robert] was confined, while he [Conn] played familiar tunes on his fiddle to let him know that he was there." Rogers faithfully reproduced Boucicault's costume, and virtually every notice of the sculpture praised how masterfully the artist captured the actor's likeness and manner. On the show's closing night, March 6, 1875, a group of twenty-five New Yorkers presented a version of the statue to Boucicault in congratulations for the play's success. Boucicault insisted that the title of the play be The Shaughraun, a term that most New Yorkers were unlikely to know (much less be able to pronounce). It was an Irish word for a vagabond or wanderer, describing the main character Conn. Boucicault's choice is in keeping with the nationalism that informs the play itself. Though Boucicault was later criticized for indulging in stereotypes, including the common "stage Irish" portrayal of Conn as a drunken comic rogue, The Shaughraun was pioneering in its address of Fenians. New Yorkers would have known about ongoing violence in Ireland over English rule, and they would have been keenly aware of the Orange Riots that had rocked New York in 1870 and 1871. On July 12 of both years, Irish Catholics clashed with Irish Protestants marching to commemorate the 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne that confirmed the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. Eight died in 1870, and more than sixty were killed the following year. Boucicault's play combined sensationalism and realism to offer a final scenario of reconciliation between the English and Irish characters and, notably, the pardon of Irish nationalists. Boucicault had addressed contentious social issues before. In 1859 he produced an antislavery play titled The Octoroon, based on the tragic type of the beautiful light-skinned woman doomed to a life of slavery based on her one-eighth portion of African American blood. Rogers may have felt a kinship with Boucicault in his embrace of current issues; Rogers' own controversial antislavery sculpture The Slave Auction dated from the same year, and he had considered the octoroon as a subject. There is no evidence that Rogers had a particular sympathy for the Irish cause, but he would certainly have been aware of the play's political subtext. In taking on a potentially incendiary subject that also represented one of the most popular plays of the decade, Rogers made a vital connection with both political events and American culture. The Shaughraun and "Tatters" proved popular among Rogers' audience and apparently had a lasting appeal; it remained in his sales catalogues into the late 1880s.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 3, 4, New York Historical Society. Appleton's Journal: a Magazine of General Literature, New York, Vol. 13, Issue 308, Feb. 13, 1875, pp. 216-7. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Feb. 18, 1875, p. 6. The Evening Post, New York, Feb. 22, 1875, p. 1. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, March 23, 1875, p. 6. The Evening Post, New York, March. 25, 1875, 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. 78. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.82-3. Baker, Charles E., "John Rogers As He Depicted American Literature," American Collector, Vol. 13, No. 10, pp. 10-1, 16. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 109, 237, 294, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 152-3.
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.