Taking The Oath And Drawing Rations

Object Number: 
November 1865
Overall: 23 x 13 x 10 in. ( 58.4 x 33 x 25.4 cm )
signed: top center of base: "JOHN ROGERS NEW YORK 12 W 14 ST" inscribed: front center of base: "TAKING THE OATH AND DRAWING RATIONS" inscribed: center back of base: "PATENTED JAN. 30 1866"
Genre figure: A bronze sculptural group featuring a southern woman taking an oath of allegiance to the Union in order to get food for her son. Her right hand is on a bible as she looks at her child who is hiding in her dress. A slave child stands next to a barrel in front of the officer administering the oath, looking up at the woman as he lifts his hat off his head. Patent # 2251: January 30 1866
Gallery Label: 
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. Rogers considered Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations one of his finest works, and it is often referred to as his masterpiece. In this psychological study of the complex tensions that characterized the end of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, the artist struck a chord with both Northern and Southern citizens, making it one of his most popular groups. In his previous two groups, The Bushwhacker (1949.240) and The Home Guard: Midnight on the Border (1932.96), Rogers attempted to speak to sympathies above and below the Mason-Dixon Line by depicting images of families caught up in the conflict in the border states. Neither sold well, and Rogers was concerned that his next sculpture be a success. He complained about his difficulty finding his next subject to his new wife, Hattie, and on September 14, 1865, he wrote her a jubilant letter: "Eureka! Hattie Eureka! I have got a wrinkle which I think is going to make a good group." He went on to explain, "It is the same idea that your Uncle [David Francis] told of seeing in Charleston, with a difference. A proud southern woman taking the oath and drawing rations. There is a chance to make a magnificent woman-something of the style of Marie Antoinette in the trial scene." Rogers referred to the French queen's dignified endurance of a humiliating trial and to what he considered a contemporary analogue: a Southern woman forced to take an oath of allegiance to the Union to secure food for her hungry family. In the closing years of the war and thereafter, the United States required the oath in exchange for aid or to travel, hold political office, buy goods, or protect personal property. Americans in both North and South would have been familiar with such scenes, whether from the pages of periodicals or from personal experience. Rogers rendered a stately woman in fine but modest dress with her hand on the Bible about to declare her loyalty to the Union. She caresses her boy, the reason for her action; his toe peeks from his shoe, a subtle sign of their fall from wealth to poverty. Next to her a Union soldier lifts his cap in a gesture of respect; his uniform identifies him as an officer of the second corps of the Army of the Potomac. At left an African American boy lounges with a basket, ready to receive the sustenance that the oath will provide. A recently freed slave, still in her service, he is barefoot, and his clothing is exceptionally ragged, his shirt nearly falling off his shoulders in tatters, suggesting that his poverty began long before. He gazes at his mistress with an inscrutable expression. After the war, Americans faced the difficult task of reuniting North and South, along with emotionally charged questions about whether punishment or clemency would guide the nation's course. Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural urged reconciliation "with malice toward none, with charity for all," and Rogers agreed that "the conciliatory course is the right one now." The artist offered a vision of Northern clemency that kept Southern dignity (and class distinctions) intact. His sculpture was hugely popular; in a rare move, Rogers raised the price of the group in response to strong sales, and it remained in his sales catalogue for the next thirty years. Rogers' success lay in evoking a scene that allowed Americans on both sides of the conflict to identify with their own concerns for the country's future. Many Unionists applauded the officer's chivalric treatment of the vanquished, and Confederates considered the scene a tribute to Southern womanhood. Critics relished the inner conflict between loyalty and necessity played out in the woman's face and posture. In the years following the sculpture's release, they offered widely varied interpretations of the African American boy, who raised the complex issue of where his place would be as a newly freed slave and a United States citizen. Most early accounts noted his wonderment at the scene, not yet understanding the import of what he witnessed, but one writer felt the boy "seems to appreciate the altered circumstances of his mistress." The abolitionist Lydia Maria Child wrote sardonically that he seemed to be watching his mistress earnestly "to see what wry faces she will make while swallowing the bitter pill." By 1877 one writer referred to his "smile of satisfaction," "as though the humiliation of his mistress was an ample satisfaction for the wrongs his race has endured." In 1868 the Art Journal expressed widespread American worries in the turbulent postwar years about whether such a reconciliation could be accomplished: though the sculpture "tells the whole story of the war . . . there is a certain ideality in it" that the writer considered "impossible."
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Oct. 30, 1865, p. 2. "Fine Arts," The Evening Post, New York, Nov. 20, 1865, p. 1. The Daily Mercury, New Bedford, Nov. 27, 1865, p. 2. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Dec. 2, 1865, p. 4. "The Exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts", The Daily Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, Dec. 28, 1865, p. 1. "Art in New York", The Daily Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, Feb. 18, 1866, p. 1. Harper's Weekly, July 21, 1866, p. 453. "Rogers's Groups", The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 22, 1866, p. 1. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Feb. 26, 1867, p. 1. "Fine Arts", The Evening Post, New York, Dec. 18, 1867, p. 2 Tuckerman, Henry T., Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, New York: P. Putnam & Son, 1867, pp. 595-7. "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, Vol. 49, no. 9, September 1869, pp. 329-30. Lossing, Benson J., "The Artist as Historian," The American Historical Record, Vol. 1, no. 6, June 1872, pp. 16, 242-4. 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.70-1. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 124, 215-6, 284, 298. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-66. Wallace, David H., "The Art of John Rogers: So Real and So True," American Art Journal, November 1972, pp. 59-70. 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. "Sculptor to the People: John Rogers," The Occasional Observer: A Newsletter of The New-York Historical Society, Fall 1978, n.p. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-68. Boime, Albert, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990, pp. 104-5, 188-99, 232, 238. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 98-9. Clapper, Michael, "Reconstructing a Family: John Rogers's Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations," Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 2004, pp. 259-78.
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Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group