The Village Schoolmaster

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 10 x 9 x 6 in. ( 25.4 x 22.9 x 15.2 cm )
inscribed: back of base, overpainted: "PATENTED MAY 27 (?) 1862" inscribed: front of base, maybe more overpainted below: "THE VILLAGE SCHOOLMASTER"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
Rogers first developed this subject in clay in 1860 and exhibited it at the National Academy of Design that year. The artist was disappointed by its reception, complaining that it went unnoticed, and the clay model, priced at $50, remained unsold. Perhaps cautious because of the lack of response, Rogers did not cast it in plaster until September 1861, after the success of his Civil War group The Picket Guard (1929.112) convinced him that his small plasters were salable. He admitted another consideration as well; he had found the group too complicated to cast until he had developed the necessary skill. Rogers took his subject from the poem "The Deserted Village" by the popular eighteenth-century British writer Oliver Goldsmith. On the base of the sculpture below the title is a line from the poem, "For e'en though vanquished he could argue still." The artist used a pyramidal composition to render three men in animated conversation. On the left is the parson, whom Goldsmith described as humble but wise, a compassionate soul. Across from him sits the schoolmaster, "A man severe he was and stern to view," but so learned that he could read and write, evidenced by the paper in his hand. Goldsmith wryly described how the parson admired the schoolmaster's skills in debate, since the man continued to argue even after he had been proven wrong by the less-educated but wiser cleric. Between them stands an amused townsman enjoying the schoolmaster's consternation. The group presages Rogers' later subjects taken from poetry, literature, and the theater. Rogers chose a subject strongly identified with the virtues of country living and nostalgia for an endangered way of life. Goldsmith's 1770 poem lamented the emptying out of rural farm communities owing to labor shortages, poverty, and the influx of rich landowners. Rogers enjoyed country life and had seriously considered farming as a profession. He, along with his contemporaries, was no doubt concerned about the growing movement of populations from the countryside to the city in the United States. He also challenged the value of "book learning" and vindicated his insecurity about his own lack of education in showing the moment when the literate teacher is bested by the unlearned pastor. Though The Village Schoolmaster did not attract critical attention at the National Academy of Design, after Rogers cast the subject in plaster it earned the praise of the New York Leader as humorous and "well grouped," and the Boston Daily Evening Transcript's writer called it "skillfully handled and almost beyond criticism."
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. Cosmopolitan Art Journal, September 1860, p. 127. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Dec. 6, 1861, p. 2. "Literature and Art", The Home Journal, New York, Dec. 21, 1861, p. 3. "Sketches of American Artists: Church, Bierstadt, Kensett, Gifford, Inness, Rogers, Story and Ward, The Evening Post, New York, June 25, 1864, p. 1. 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. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, 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. 80 Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.62-3. 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. 63, 85, 91, 109, 148, 185-7, 287-8, 295, 299, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 64-5.
Credit Line: 
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group