The Town Pump

Object Number: 
Painted plaster with metal parts
Overall: 13 1/8 x 10 1/8 x 7 1/2 in. ( 33.3 x 25.7 x 19 cm )
signed: front of water trough: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: front of base: "THE TOWN PUMP"
Genre figure.
Gallery Label: 
This work from 1862 was adapted from a sculpture of the same name that Rogers modeled in Chicago in 1859 (location unknown). He titled the earlier sculpture Country Courtship and included in it a horse and a dog. By the time Rogers created this later version, the nation was engulfed in the Civil War, and he carefully tailored his composition to suit the new realities. Rogers eliminated the dog and horse and focused on the interaction between the soldier and the young woman. The soldier stands, cup in hand, with one foot casually planted on the trough, and one hand dangling from the pump. He leans in as he speaks to a simply dressed girl with a bucket who has come to draw water. She declines to approach the pump and draws away but inclines her head to indicate her interest. The two engage in a delicate dance of flirtation but maintain their propriety. The girl's modest dress and shy demeanor guarantee her virtue, and the inquisitive soldier is in full uniform: his hat is on, his cloak is buttoned up to his neck, and he is laden with his pack and equipment, including a cartridge box with a "U.S." insignia, reminding the viewer of his valiant service to the Union. Rogers' tableau depicts a moment of contact, and contemporary viewers would have wondered what preceded it-and what came afterward. As Rogers' only Civil War group showing interaction between a civilian and a soldier on active duty, The Town Pump struck a chord with the many people who had seen a young man off to war. Rogers' sales catalogue described the scene: "A soldier who has stopped at the town-pump for a drink, meets a girl who comes with her pail for water, and has a talk and flirtation with her." Rogers' early version began as a scene of courtship, suggesting the beginning of a relation leading to marriage, but his new group showed merely a lighthearted chat. Though Rogers kept the mood bright, his viewers knew that any such soldier would soon move on, perhaps to face battle and death. Most critics understood the nature of the scene. One writer described the "mischievous young private" and the "village coquette" and assured readers, "It is no Isaac and Rebecca at the well affair, but an out and out flirtation" (referring to the biblical story of Isaac meeting his future wife). But other writers interpreted the group differently. The writer for the Boston Evening Transcript composed a poem describing the scene as a declaration of fidelity from a departing lover. More than twenty years later such interpretations persisted. The subject quickly became part of the complex of personal and collective memory related to the war, as can be seen in Johannes Oertel's Visiting Grandma (N-YHS, 1970.75). Painted just a few years later, in 1865, it shows two young children in the parlor with their grandmother, and on a shelf stands The Town Pump. The young couple in the sculpture functions almost as the parents who fill the generational void between the children and the elderly matron. Rogers exhibited The Town Pump at the National Academy of Design in 1862 to critical acclaim; it attracted far more attention than his other contribution, Air Castles, a large-scale marble in the neoclassical tradition that he had labored on for more than a year. By comparison, he had spent just a few weeks modeling The Town Pump. During the early 1860s Rogers struggled to choose between the reigning neoclassical tradition of ideal subjects rendered in marble and his inclination toward small plaster groups of subjects from American life. The enthusiastic response to The Town Pump affirmed his course toward realism.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, New York Historical Society. "The Academy of Design", New York Evening Post, April 17, 1862, P. 1. "National Academy of Design", The New York Times, April 24, 1862, p. 2. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Dec. 1, 1862, p. 1. Tuckerman, Henry T., Book of the Artists, American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in America, New York: P. Putnam & Son, 1867, pp. 595-7. Wells, Samuel R., ed., "John Rogers, the Sculptor," American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Vol. 49, no. 9, September, 1869, pp. 329-30. 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.64-5. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 79, 81, 90, 99, 119, 148, 150, 178, 197, 202-3, 299, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 74-7.
Credit Line: 
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group