Randolph Rogers


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Sculptor. Residing in Rome throughout his professional life, he ranked among the most popular and productive sculptors of his day. His work extended mid-nineteenth-century neoclassicism toward formal complexity, the suggestion of movement, and eloquent emotion. In addition, he frequently embellished his work with the realistic narrative detail popular during the Victorian era. One of the nineteenth century's best-known sculptures, Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (National Gallery, 1860; modeled c. 1853–54) depicts a character from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's enormously popular 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. The unseeing young woman flees as she strains to hear, her swirling garments threatening to entangle her legs and walking staff. But the classical serenity of her face and the grace of her posture speak of innocent virtue and heart-wrenching vulnerability to her predicament. Rogers found buyers for several dozen replicas in two sizes. Many of his other ideal compositions also illustrate literary or genre themes, rather than classical subjects. His civic monuments and numerous portrait busts display a sensitive naturalism. Born in upstate Waterloo, New York, Rogers grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After about a year in New York, where he took up sculpture in his spare time, in 1848 he departed for Italy. He subsequently resided there, with occasional visits to the United States. In Florence he studied under neoclassical sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini. During the three years before he left to establish his own studio in Rome, he became an accomplished modeler. However, he never learned to carve marble, leaving him even more dependent than most sculptors of his day on Italian workmen. Nevertheless, his career soon flourished. His first ambitious ideal work, the classically restrained but realistically detailed Ruth Gleaning (Metropolitan Museum, 1855 or 1856; modeled 1850), which he had begun in Florence, secured his reputation and eventually spawned some twenty life-size replicas and many additional smaller ones. His last important literary work, The Lost Pleiad (Art Institute of Chicago, 1874–75), elicited more than one hundred orders for replicas in two sizes. Demonstrating his evolution toward baroque form, this semi-nude, female personification dramatizes a myth as she twists sharply while floating in billowing drapery, marble clouds at her feet. In 1854 Rogers accepted his first public commission, a life-size John Adams (Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1854–59). Subsequently, he remained almost continuously at work on embellishments for public spaces. In 1855 he began a pair of bronze doors for the U.S. Capitol (central portico, east facade; installed 1863; cast 1859). Illustrating the life of Christopher Columbus, the doors mimic Lorenzo Ghiberti's fifteenth-century Gates of Paradise in format and style. After Thomas Crawford's death in 1857, Rogers completed his friend's monument to George Washington (state capitol grounds, Richmond, Virginia, 1869). For this grand ensemble he provided three large portrait figures and six allegories. During the 1860s and 1870s his flair for combining patriotic idealism with convincing realism kept him in demand for commemorative monuments, usually in bronze. Often memorializing the Civil War or its heroes, these civic commissions can be found in Cincinnati, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, and other locations. In the early 1880s a stroke ended his artistic career. He died in Rome.


Subjects: Art.

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