The Sitter

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 16 7/8 x 9 in. ( 42.9 x 22.9 cm )
signed: top front of base: "JOHN ROGERS/ NEW YORK/1878" inscribed: back top of base: "PATENTED AUG 15 1878"
Genre figure
Gallery Label: 
Rogers sometimes created sculptures that formed natural pairs or series, such as his three Rip Van Winkle groups of 1871 and the large-scale lawn sculptures Hide and Seek and Hide and Seek: Whoop! which he introduced a few years later. However, The Photographer and The Sitter are the only related sculptures that were sold as a pair and were compositionally dependent on one another to complete their shared narrative. The pair depicts a young woman (modeled after Roger's wife, Hattie) having her son's photograph taken. The toddler (modeled after the artist's two-year-old son, David) sits on a small table in the arms of his fashionably dressed mother. Across from him the photographer leans over his apparatus and dangles a jumping jack to focus the boy's attention. Though the two sculptures complement and complete one another, Rogers gave each an individual character. The Sitter is elaborately decorated with an eye to the sensibilities of its female and youthful subjects; the surface is embellished with varied textures, such as the lace and tasseled trim of the woman's dress, and the pedestal of the table features small concavities surrounded by greenery and inhabited by woodland creatures. In contrast, The Photographer is sparer and more masculine. The man's costume, though dapper, lacks fine texture, and the pedestal of his apparatus is decorated with simple geometric patterns. Rogers chose an experience familiar to most Americans of the period. Having one's photograph taken was a relatively inexpensive and common practice compared to having one's portrait painted. Rogers himself had had his photograph taken several times by this point, both as a private person with members of his family and as the celebrity artist he had become. The sculptural medium points up another aspect of the photographic process in the late nineteenth century: Rogers' figures are frozen in motion, and contemporary viewers would have had vivid memories of how hard it is to sit still for a photograph, since cameras were not yet able to take snapshots and required a long exposure time. Photography studios were outfitted with braces that kept the sitters firmly (if perhaps painfully) in position, but keeping a child still represented a particular challenge. Rogers himself faced the same difficulty in having his son sit quietly when posing for this sculpture of a boy who is in turn having his photo taken; perhaps Rogers resorted to photos of his son as an aid. Though the two works are now usually exhibited in close proximity to one another, they were originally intended to be placed far apart, on the opposite ends of a mantel. In this way, Rogers expanded the space covered by his narrative, but he left it up to the owner to decide just how far apart the two sculptures would sit. Rogers created a witty play between his groups, praised for their wealth of realistic detail and their naturalness, and the objects that surrounded them in a parlor setting. In their intended positions across a mantel, the mother and photographer would gaze intently at one another, trying to judge the right moment for the picture to be taken, and the boy would look at the camera, anticipating the bird that was rigged to pop out for his amusement just as the shutter clicked. These gazes would travel down a mantel that might be filled with candlesticks, vases, or other decorative objects that would seem gigantic by comparison. By allowing his groups to communicate to one another across a room, Rogers opened the space that they inhabited to include other objects, thereby pointing out their status as works of art at a time when he was most highly praised for his sculptures' fidelity to life.
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. 86-7. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 244-5. Bourdon, David, "The story-telling statuettes of John Rogers, 19th-century people's artist, are being eagerly collected again," Smithsonian, Vol. 6, No. 2, May 1975, pp. 51-7. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," The Magazine Antiques, April 1970, pp. 756-68. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 168-9.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group