William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 24 1/2 x 20 x 13 3/4 in. ( 62.2 x 50.8 x 34.9 cm )
inscribed: proper right side: "Wm. C. BRYANT by JOHN ROGERS NEW YORK 1892"
Portrait bust.
Gallery Label: 
John Rogers, called "the people's sculptor," is arguably the most popular sculptor in American history. He is remembered for his narrative plasters, known as Rogers Groups. From 1859 to 1893 he sold an estimated eighty thousand diminutive sculptures depicting scenes from the Civil War, domestic life, and theatrical subjects from the works of Shakespeare, Washington Irving, and others. Rogers was also a talented portraitist, as is evident in this life-size bust of William Cullen Bryant. A poet and longtime editor of the New York Evening Post, Bryant was an early supporter of the young sculptor. In 1868 he warmly praised one of Rogers' works, writing "You have succeeded in a higher degree than almost any artist of any age in making sculpture a narrative art, and giving to motionless and speechless figures the power to relate their own adventures." However, it is not clear why Rogers chose the subject at the end of his career. Bryant died fourteen years before, but the centenary of his birth was coming up in 1894, so Rogers may have anticipated a renewed interest in his image. Rogers' depiction radiates the gravitas and monumentality suitable to a revered figure, but its most striking feature is the bravura handling that sets it apart from his earlier works, with their carefully detailed surfaces. The N-YHS plaster is the only known version and at its size it was unlikely that it was intended for mass production. Rogers may have hoped for a commission to cast it in bronze, since it came to the N-YHS from the Rogers family painted to emulate bronze.
Catalogue of American Portraits in The New-York Historical Society, New Haven: Yale University Press, Vol. 1, 1974, p. 106-8. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 125, 133, 163, 209, 223, 271-2. Holzer, Harold, and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-68.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Miss Katherine Rebecca Rogers
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group