John Rogers’s Famous Tribute to Lincoln: The Council of War
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John Rogers was the sculptor of the middle class in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was most famous for casting groups of figures in plaster and then painting them, with subjects mostly ordinary people or fictional characters. Occasionally he created groups of extraordinary people and events, and The Council of War is one such group. It depicts President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and General Ulysses S. Grant discussing the Civil War while looking over a map or battle plan. Stanton himself suggested that Rogers make group, who described the scene as “one of the most interesting and appropriate occasions” for a sculpture. Some art historians have suggested it was a deliberate attempt to mend, at least publicly, his relationship with U.S. Grant. The work was later praised by Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln, who considered it to be the most lifelike portrait of his father in sculpture.
There are three versions of The Council of War, all slightly different and dependent on Stanton’s hands—at his side, behind Lincoln’s head, or forward of Lincoln’s head over the president’s shoulder. Ours is the latter example. [CIVIL WAR]. JOHN ROGERS.
Painted Plaster Sculpture. The Council of War
. New York, N.Y., 1868. Signed “John Rogers, New York Patented March 31, 1868.”
John Rogers (1829-1904) was best known for his “groups,” plaster cast sculptures depicting day-to-day activities and ordinary events. His subjects included Civil War soldiers, family groups, literary topics, theater scenes and historical figures. Mass produced and moderately priced, Rogers groups were ubiquitous in late Victorian middle and upper-middle class homes—truly a marriage of mass consumption and the Industrial Revolution. By the 1880s, Roger’s sculptures joined Currier and Ives lithography in American homes and businesses, and new releases by Rogers were major media events.
Rogers was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and began his working career as a machinist in Manchester, New Hampshire before pursuing European training and a career as a sculptor. Upon his return, he lived in Chicago and then New York City.