Coming To The Parson
Overall: 22 x 16 1/2 x 10 in. ( 55.9 x 41.9 x 25.4 cm )
signed: proper left top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/ 14 W 12 ST" inscribed: proper left top back of base: "PATENTED/AUG.9.1870" inscribed: front of base: "COMING TO THE PARSON"
This bronze served as the master model for the plasters that Rogers sold to a broad audience of middle-class Americans. Coming to the Parson was Rogers' most popular group by far, selling more than eight thousand copies, approximately one-tenth of his total output. In a decisive break from his earlier focus on the Civil War and Reconstruction, Rogers offered a reassuring image of hope, a new beginning, and, literally, of union, for which Americans hungered after a traumatic decade of war and its aftermath. Rogers depicted a rustic couple interrupting a minister to ask him to perform an impromptu ceremony. The young man with a flower in his buttonhole clutches his hat awkwardly, and his intended peeks shyly around him. She has dressed in her best, and she bites her makeshift veil in a childish gesture that points out her tender age. The parson, still in his dressing gown, looks up in surprise at the impatient couple. He is reading a newspaper that Rogers, adding a note of humor, entitled The Union. Rogers wryly hinted that the couple's future might hold less than harmonious moments by including a dog and cat that crouch at their feet, poised for a fight. Rogers struck a resonant chord with his new subject, which combined nostalgia for lost innocence and intimations of a brighter future. His figures were understood to be country folk, signaling a rural American past that was lamented as a purer, simpler era, now lost. However, the marriage offered hope for a new "Union," perhaps not only for the young lovers but also between the North and South. Contemporary writers relished telling the story of Rogers' sculpture, with its gently humorous nuances and flourishes, linking it to an earnest optimism about home and family. The New York Evening Mail assured its readers that "This is no runaway match-not a bit of it. There is honest, manly purpose in every inch of that young fellow and that she has her mother's blessing who can doubt that looks into her radiant face?" Another writer concurred, "One laughs first at the gaucherie of the lovers, but after a little study discovers that it is not a laughing matter at all. These young people are not on a frolic; the business that has brought them here is the most serious business they have ever undertaken." The public embraced Rogers' subject with delight. Importantly for its popularity, the year that Rogers released this group he began to offer free delivery to any express station in the United States, expanding his sales far beyond the East Coast, so that Coming to the Parson achieved tremendous nationwide popularity as a wedding gift. The subject became an icon of American culture; nearly eighty years later Norman Rockwell referenced the group in his "April Fool" cover for the Saturday Evening Post dated April 3, 1948. Titled Curiosity Shop, it illustrates an encounter between the elderly owner and a very young patron. Among the quirky items meant to test the viewer's alertness is a Rogers Group that conflates the solider from one of his Civil War groups with the young woman about to be married, in an unintended reminder of the links between this group and his Civil War subjects. Clearly, Coming to the Parson was still familiar enough to the public that Rockwell could expect his audience to understand the joke.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. "The Sculptor Rogers Latest Group," New York Evening Mail, Apr. 5, 1870, p. 1. "Art Notes," The Evening Post, New York, Oct. 4, 1870, p. 2. Harper's Weekly, March 6, 1875, p. 208. New York Daily Graphic, Jan. 8, 1877, p. 3. 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. 74. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp. 74-5. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 114, 150, 225, 239, 294, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Bourdon, David, "The story-telling statuettes of John Rogers, 19th-century people's artist, are being eagerly collected again," Smithsonian, Vol. 6, No. 2, May 1975, pp. 51-7. Holtzer, Harold and Farber, Joseph, "The Sculpture of John Rogers," Antiques Magazine, April 1979, pp. 756-768. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 122-3.
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.