Collection Online

Coming to the Parson, ca. 1870

Artist: John Rogers, American, 1829 - 1904

Medium: Plaster

21 3/4 x 16 3/4 x 9 3/4 in. (55.2 x 42.5 x 24.7 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Brooks Art Gallery League

Object Number: 50.12

Not on view

Brooks Art Gallery League, Memphis, Tennessee, 1950

When Coming to the Parson was released in 1870, it was priced at $15 and eventually sold 8,000 copies. It had all of the hallmarks of John Rogers’ most successful sculptures: it depicted a sentimental subject that was easy to understand, was naturalistically rendered, and was affordably priced for a middle-class audience. Between 1860 and 1893, he sold approximately 80,000 plaster copies of groups depicting literary themes, genre scenes, or social commentary.

 

Born to a leading Boston family, Rogers was well educated although not wealthy. He trained as a mechanic and taught himself to model clay in the evenings. Almost immediately, he attracted attention for his tableaux of ordinary figures. It was not until 1858 that he was able to travel to Europe to study. Unlike such American expatriate sculptors as Randolph Rogers, William Wetmore Store, and Harriet Hosmer, who carved ideal subjects, Rogers was committed to returning to the United States and producing genre scenes.

 

Rogers’ experience as a machinist made the possibilities of mass-producing his sculptures evident. In New York, he mastered the process of making flexible molds and translated The Slave Auction (1859) into plaster. Soon, besides selling through galleries and stores, he established a successful mail-order business that reached far beyond the eastern seaboard. The subjects he chose had wide appeal and could not offend even the most prim sensibilities. The poignant scene in Coming to the Parson captures a young couple who have surprised a preacher reading his paper. The bride shyly peers out from behind her fiancé, while he addresses the clergyman. Such details as the shawl in her mouth and their tightly clasped hands communicate quickly and evocatively the desire of this bashful couple. Rogers’ attention to quotidian elements, including the cat and dog playing around the feet of the men, brings the scene to vivid life.