Weighing The Baby
Overall: 21 x 15 x 13 in. ( 53.3 x 38.1 x 33 cm )
The centennial year can be said to mark the pinnacle of Rogers' success. He exhibited twenty-nine of his groups at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and his popularity allowed him to open a new showroom on Broadway and Twenty-third Street. Rogers' crowning success of 1876 was Weighing the Baby, one of his best-loved sculptures. A young mother has taken her newborn to the local general store to have it weighed, and the proprietor leans over the scales, removing his glasses in a gesture of disbelief at the high number that the scales indicate. Unbeknownst to either of them, a roguish boy has grabbed the baby's blanket and is pulling the scale down to make it register the incredible weight. Rogers turned to his own growing family for models for this lighthearted domestic episode, namely, his wife, Hattie, their six-year-old son, Charlie, and their newborn son, David. He placed them on a square base that suggests a stage. Small objects such as cans and brushes serve as props to indicate the store setting. The artist cleverly placed his figures so that the mother and the merchant cannot see the mischievous boy's trickery, but the viewer can, as if he or she is an audience member seeing a bit of comic business downstage left. Critics relished retelling the joke in their descriptions of the sculpture, and the suggested narrative was so irresistible that one writer regretted that Rogers could not continue the action and show the boy being discovered and fleeing. However, these theatrical devices stop short of becoming a caricatured vaudeville skit, because Rogers' sincere and affectionate portrayals of his family soften the humor. Weighing the Baby was an immediate hit. Rogers introduced the sculpture for the 1876 holiday season, and his initial stock sold out before Christmas. Responses to the new group in contemporary periodicals show a shift in how the sculptor's works were perceived. Rogers purposely released new sculptures each year in time for the holiday season, and in 1876 they were discussed as much in terms of their suitability as gifts as for their artistic merits. One writer wished "everybody would consider how much better such an artistic work is for an investment than the multitude of trash sold at holiday time." The present-day scholar Melissa Dabakis called this group, "funny, lighthearted, and optimistic . . . emblematic of the imagery demanded by a reform-weary public in Gilded Age America." Reassuring domestic subjects like this one are often considered typical of Rogers' work. Their very popularity, though a mark of the wide-ranging esteem he enjoyed in his time, ultimately worked against Rogers' posthumous reputation by overshadowing the broad scope of his oeuvre.
Article, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vols. 1, 4, New York Historical Society. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Sep. 25, 1876, p. 6. The Evening Post, New York, Nov. 9, 1876, p. 2. New York Daily Graphic, New York, 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. 80. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.84-5. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 116-7, 241, 294, 300-1, 304. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 158-9, 249.
Gift of Mrs. Francis P. Garvan
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.