Painted plaster with lead parts
Overall: 15 x 18 x 12 in. ( 38.1 x 45.7 x 30.5 cm )
signed: proper right front corner of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK/1879" inscribed: center front of base: "POLO" paper label: on front of base: "310"
Genre figure: Two players on horses at goalpost
When Rogers created this group, the sport of polo was still new or even unknown to most Americans. It was imported from India to Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, and the first polo match in the United States took place in 1876, organized by the publisher James Gordon Bennett at Dickel's Riding Academy at Thirty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue in New York. Rogers lived nearby on West Forty-third Street. Given his interest in horses, Rogers was probably familiar with the place, and he may well have been present at the match. Polo clubs sprang up quickly thereafter in the New York area. Rogers created this group just three years later. The sculptor had already taken horses as his subject several times before, in We Boys (1936.711, 1936.661, 1929.96), Going for the Cows (1936.650, 1939.98), and The Peddler at the Fair (1947.145, 1929.85), but he had never before depicted them in motion. Polo is an astonishing technical achievement. The artist assumed the formidable challenge of depicting two horses racing toward each other, posed in very different stances, with one rearing and the other in mid-gallop. The players are dressed in the standard garb of the period, wearing the flat fezes that were a legacy of the game's Eastern origins. Rogers' well-known mastery of equine anatomy made the horses seem more alive and intensely engaged than their riders: their muscles flex and their eyes bulge. Most remarkably, the galloping horse has all four feet off the ground and is supported by a metal rod that joins his form to that of the other horse. Rogers modeled delicate parts, such as the flag and the mallets, from metal, to minimize breakage. Rogers was acclaimed for his painstaking realism, and in Polo he was careful to depict the costumes and equipment accurately. However, he apparently did not realize that the most important element of the group was in error. His virtuoso achievement of rendering a horse in three dimensions with all four feet extended off the ground had been proven physically impossible the year before. The photographer Eadweard Muybridge took a series of photographs called The Horse in Motion showing that at the moment all four of the horse's feet leave the ground they are not extended, as they are in Rogers' sculpture, but curled inward. Muybridge's experiment took place in California, so it is possible that the news, along with the photographs, had not yet reached the artist. It is not surprising that Rogers was attracted to the sport of polo, but it was a pastime of the well-to-do, and his middle-class audience did not share his interest. Polo has been called Rogers' greatest technical achievement, but it was also one of his greatest commercial failures. It disappeared from his catalogue just nine years later and is now one of his rarest groups.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 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. 78. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp. 88-9. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 112, 119, 150, 245, 287, 295-6, 304. Craven, Wayne, Sculpture in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968, pp. 357-366. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 176-7.
Gift of Mrs. Francis P. Garvan
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.