Randolph Rogers and the Bust of Lew Wallace

Throughout his life Lew Wallace had a deep interest in the creative arts. He created original works of art and he acquired works by others. One of the most recognizable works he acquired was a bust of himself created by the famed American sculptor, Randolph Rogers. The museum is fortunate to have both a marble original of Rogers’ bust of Lew and a bronze casting. Wallace’s bronze bust is signed by Randolph Rogers and dated 1862. It was cast by Jules Berchem of Chicago. Just who actually commissioned the bust and how it came to Wallace is unknown. It is, none the less, one of the most important works of art in the collection and was prized by Wallace who gave it a place of honor in his Study.

Randolph Rogers was born in Waterloo, New York, July 6, 1825. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he moved to New York City at about the age of 20. Various accounts have Rogers moving to New York to pursue a career as a magazine illustrator but ultimately finding work in a dry goods store (some say a department store). At any rate his employers discovered his aptitude for carving and promptly financed his trip to Florence, Italy in 1848 so that he could pursue formal training. In Florence, he studied at the Academy of Saint Marks with Lorenzo Bartolini. When Bartolini died in 1850, Rogers moved to Rome where he established his own studio. It appears he may have returned to New York for a brief period, but for most of the rest of his life he lived and worked in Rome.

Rogers quickly established a reputation as one of the outstanding and most prolific American neoclassical sculptors of his generation. In 1852, he had a sculpture entitled “Night” exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York. Although this work has been lost, it was very well received. He followed this work with one entitled “Ruth Gleaning” in 1853. The enormous popularity of this statue led to his receiving the commission for the main entrance doors of the U.S. Capitol after just 5 years as a sculptor. The bronze doors stand seventeen feet tall and weigh an impressive 20,000 pounds. Called the Columbus Doors, they represent scenes from the life of Columbus in bas relief. Throughout the 1850s, Rogers’ works were largely of mythical subjects in a neoclassical design or portrait busts. Perhaps his most popular sculpture was “Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii.” He sold almost 100 copies of this particular statue and it is considered by some to be the most popular American neoclassical sculpture ever created.

Just prior to the Civil War, Rogers received a commission to complete the Washington equestrian monument that stands in downtown Richmond, Virginia. This monument had been left unfinished because of the death of Thomas Crawford, its original designer. This was a fortuitous commission for another reason because in 1857, during his time in Richmond, Rogers married. Around this time he was also completing a statue of John Adams in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts and “Angel of the Resurrection” for the Samuel Colt monument in Hartford, Connecticut. Beyond these monumental works, Rogers was one of the most sought after sculptors by Americans who were completing their grand tours of Europe. It was customary for travelers who were preparing to depart Europe to sit for a portrait bust in one of the studios in Rome, and Rogers was one of the most popular artists.

It’s recorded that the bust of Wallace was a parting souvenir after the siege of Cincinnati in 1862, where Rogers may have been a member of General Wallace’s military staff. Wallace mentioned Randolph Rogers in his Autobiography.  “The excitement, anxiety, and hard work of the three or four weeks thus taken up were not without relief. Columbus [Ohio] was then, as it is now, noted for the culture and refinement of its society, and I was not allowed to become an anchorite. Of all the enjoyable hours, however, I recall none so delightful and perfectly to my taste as a series of entertainments given in the Opera House by Thomas Buchanan Read and James Murdoch, the actor. Their audiences were jams without standing-room. Loyal souls were they, making their genius tributary to sufferers in military hospitals. Their nightly receipts were small fortunes—yet they took nothing for their services, not even expenses. I was very happy to have them for my guests at the hotel, where Rogers, the sculptor, whose home was Italy, used to join us.

All gone now—all.”

By 1863, Rogers was beginning to receive commissions for busts and statues relating to the Civil War. In just a few years he became the preeminent sculptor for Civil War memorials and statues with notable commissions like the Soldiers Monument in Gettysburg, the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Detroit (considered among the first large scale commemorations of the Civil War by a large city), an impressive statue called “The Sentinel” for Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, a statue of Abraham Lincoln for Philadelphia and one of William H. Seward in Madison Square Park in New York. In keeping with the Civil War commissions he was receiving, he created the bust of Major General Lew Wallace in his Civil War uniform.

In 1873, Rogers was chosen a professor of sculpture at the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome, the first American to be so honored. In 1882, he suffered from illness and was never able to work as a sculptor again although he continued to supervise workers in his studio. In 1884, he was awarded the order of the Caviliere della Coronoa d’Italia, an honorary knighthood bestowed in recognition of service to the Italian Republic.

In June of 1885, Lew Wallace was in Italy, checking on the progress of his commissioned statue of Pensiero which still holds a place of honor in the Study. During this visit, he again spent some time with Rogers.

Rome, June 7, 1885.

“As yet I have done no calling. My time is occupied with the Christmas article for Harper’s Magazine, ‘Boyhood of Christ,’ which I am bent on taking home complete and ready for submission. My spare time is given to the galleries, looking for illustrations. The more I see of them the more I am struck with the sameness of the pictures. It is positively wearisome to pass them in review; especially is this true of the religious subjects. The Madonnas are conventional; the Christs are all old babies. Fashion seems to have governed the masters. Raphael grows on me, and he is the only one who does. What an amazing genius he had! Occasionally I have gone down to see how the workmen are getting on with my Pensiero.

It is at last finished and paid for. It is perfectly satisfactory, and will be if I can only get it home complete. The dealer assures me he can pack it so as to make it perfectly safe. But alas, he is not acquainted with the American baggage-smasher!

“This city is in excellent sanitary condition. The streets are swept and kept clean as the deck of a ship. It looks as if an epidemic can find no lodgment.

“Day after to-morrow I will go over to Florence, which is represented as like a heated oven. A couple of days will do me there, then I shoot to Paris. This is not intended as a letter. It is merely to tell that I am alive and here. This evening I will call on the Storys. . .

“I open the envelope to say I have just returned from seeing a military review. Through the kindness of . . .  Rogers, I had a window which brought me within thirty feet of Queen Margherita. She is quite beautiful, with blond hair waving, and dreamy blue eyes. The king was the reviewer, and with all his trappings did not look kingly in the least. The display, however, was fine.”

Randolph Rogers passed away in Rome on January 15, 1892. Among the museums in America that boast works by Rogers are the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, the Detroit Institute of Art, Harvard University, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian in Washington, the Brooklyn Museum/Luce Center for American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and, closer to home, the Indianapolis Museum of Art which has it’s own version of Roger’s famous “Ruth Gleaning.” With the bust of General Wallace created by Randolph Rogers as part of our art collection, the Study is in good company.

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