Painted plaster with lead parts
Overall: 29 x 10 x 9 1/2 in. ( 73.7 x 25.4 x 24.1 cm )
signed: proper left side of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "WASHINGTON"
Rogers is best known for his multi-figure narrative groups, and this plaster is a rare example of a single figure composition. The sculptor was inspired by the upcoming celebration of the 1876 United States Centennial to take the country's founding father as his subject. He turned to plans he had made a few years before for an ambitious group called Camp Fires of the Revolution that was to include Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The group was never realized, but Rogers made use of his preparatory work for the figure of Washington. He had examined portraits and busts of the first President. His sketchbook at the New-York Historical Society includes notes on those depictions, as well as detailed sketches of his uniform. Rogers wrote apologetically of the sculpture to his mother, "I do not think you will consider it very interesting, for it tells no story and is simply George standing alone." However, even in the context of a single figure the artist constructed a subtle narrative that makes the sculpture more than a mere commemorative image. He depicted Washington as if arrested in a moment of action during the Revolutionary War. He is in uniform, complete with fringed epaulettes and cockaded hat. His riding boots, the gloves in his hand, and the cloak draped casually on the pillar behind him indicate that he has just dismounted from his horse. He stands not on a marble base that would indicate a monument, but on solid ground with grass beneath his feet, and he leans casually. Rogers modeled Washington's face after the ca. 1786 bust by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. Rogers did merely copy the bust though. Rather, he gave Washington a thoughtful, alert expression as he looks into the distance. Washington was part of Rogers' substantial contribution to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. His display included twenty-nine sculptures, representing virtually all of his groups to date. Potter's American Monthly singled out Washington for illustration and the writer enthused, "his quick genius [has] caught the real soul of our hero, while most artists, before and since, have simply produced more or less vapid pictures of the mere face of the man." In spite of this praise the sculpture apparently did not sell well, perhaps because it was not a typical example of Rogers' work. It was withdrawn from his sales catalogue in 1888, and surviving examples are relatively rare.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 1, New York Historical Society. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Dec. 28, 1875, p. 6. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Feb. 25, 1876, p. 2. "Fine Arts," The Evening Post, New York, June 9, 1876, p. 1. "Centennial Exposition Memoranda," Potter's American Monthly, Philadelphia, October 1876, pp. 317-20. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 108, 228, 238, 295, 297, 304. Catalogue of American Portraits in The New-York Historical Society, New Haven: Yale University Press, Vol. 2, 1974, p. 864 Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 154-5.
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.