The Wrestlers

Object Number: 
Painted plaster
Overall: 27 1/2 x 16 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. ( 69.8 x 41.9 x 29.2 cm )
signed: top proper right of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1881" inscribed: top center back step: "PATENTED SEPT 20.1881" inscribed: front of base: "THE WRESTLERS" inscribed: front edge of base: "CELIA ROSALIND CHARLES ORLANDO TOUCHSTONE"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
Rogers produced several groups after Shakespearean subjects in the late 1870s and 1880s, but he had declared his high ambitions for them decades earlier. In 1861 he wrote that he wanted to produce a series in uniform size "so that they will mate well" and continued, "Taking my designs from Shakespeare will give them a dignity that everyday subjects don't have." By the time Rogers turned to these themes in earnest, he had developed the skill and capability to produce a tour de force like The Wrestlers. Taken from act 1, scene 2 of As You Like It, Rogers' scene depicts the young Orlando about to throw Charles, the professional wrestler favored to win the match, as Celia, Rosalind, and the jester Touchstone look on. Rogers' elaborate composition compresses the action into a small, round area, in contrast to the squared-off stagelike space of his other Shakespearean groups. The circular base of the sculpture highlights a spiraling composition that draws the eye from the concerned faces of Celia and Rosalind down to the jester's amusement, continuing to the underdog Orlando bodily lifting Charles. Rogers presented the men in a remarkably precarious position that showcases his hard-won ability to create complex poses and reliably reproduce them en masse in plaster. The sculpture is striking for the astounding detail of the women's and the jester's costumes and the elaborate (if abbreviated) balcony on which they stand. Also notable is Rogers' mastery of the human figure, demonstrated in Charles' musculature, entirely convincing even in his contorted pose. Rogers' description for The Wrestlers goes beyond the well-known text of the play. Whereas the script merely indicates that the two men wrestle, Rogers offers a more detailed scenario, explaining that "Charles is thrown, for, by a trick well known to professional wrestlers, as they stand facing each other, Orlando suddenly seizes Charles by one arm and whirls him around, which enables him to clasp him from behind and lift him from the ground so as to throw him on his shoulders. Charles tries to break Orlando's hold by twisting open his hands." Rogers was an avid theatergoer and, though not a sports enthusiast, attended a professional fight while developing this group to study the positions of the athletes. The sculptor's other Shakespearean groups were titled with a line from the play being depicted, and he often chose scenes that established principal characters' relation to one another or that began the trajectory of the action, as in "Madam, Your Mother Craves a Word with You" or "Ha! I Like Not That!" In this case, Rogers chose not a dialogue, but an exciting and dynamic action, as the untutored naïf Orlando triumphs over the trained professional Charles, who has just severely injured his previous three opponents and has been charged by Orlando's brother to beat the young man soundly. Orlando's victory demonstrates his natural virtues and marks the occasion when he falls in love with Rosalind, whom he will meet later in her disguise as Ganymede. Contemporary responses to the sculpture show the public's familiarity with the play, which was presented in New York almost every year in the 1870s and early 1880s. Rogers' genre scenes and Civil War subjects told their own self-contained stories that could be deciphered by the careful observer. In this case, however, Rogers depicted a moment taken from a much larger narrative. Late-nineteenth-century Americans were far more familiar with the works of Shakespeare than we are today, and though Rogers' catalogues always provided elaborate explanations so viewers could situate the scene in the context of the play, he assumed their familiarity with the larger story line.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 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. 80. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.90-1. 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. 109, 247-8, 295, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 180-1.
Credit Line: 
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group