RANDOLPH JOHN ROGERS (1825–1892)
Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, 1862
Marble, 36 1/2 in. high
Signed, dated, and inscribed (on edge of base): Randolph Rogers / Rome 1862
RECORDED: Millard F. Rogers, Randolph Rogers: American Sculptor in Rome (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1971), p. 201, as owned by William H. Gerdts
EX COLL.: William H. Gerdts, New York, early 1960s until 2014
Randolph John Rogers, barely past his student years, revealed a formidable talent and a keen insight into American taste when he created an icon of nineteenth-century American visual culture. He began to model Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, his most famous artwork, in Italy before his return trip to America in 1854. Lorado Taft, writing in 1903, described Nydia as “so well-known as scarcely to require description” (Lorado Taft, The History of American Sculpture [New York: The MacMillan Co., 1903, 1924], p. 160). Along with Ruth Gleaning, another of Rogers’s best-known works, Nydia represented Rogers at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, lent by the same patron who later donated both statues to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1899.
Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii was produced in multiples, both in a full-size 45-inch high version and in the present reduced version. Wayne Craven called Nydia “a symbol of its era” (Wayne Craven, “Images of a Nation in Wood, Marble and Bronze: American Sculpture from 1776 to 1900,” in 200 Years of American Sculpture, exhib. cat. [New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1976], p. 43), while William Gerdts identified it as “the most popular of full-length sculptures by an American artist” (William Gerdts, American Neo-Classical Sculpture , p. 34). Gerdts himself once owned the present sculpture.
The subject of Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii derived from an episode in Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton’s wildly successful 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. In Lytton’s account, Nydia was a blind Greek slave girl of mysterious, but probably noble, origin, bound in servitude in Pompeii. Involved in a romantic triangle with Glaucus, who had freed her from a brutal master, only to give her to his love, Ione, Nydia risked her life to save Glaucus and Ione during the fatal eruption. Attempting to lead the pair out of the doomed city, Nydia became separated from them. Rogers depicted her at this moment in Lytton’s tale:
At length it occurred to Nydia, that as it had been resolved to seek the seashore for escape, her most probable chance of rejoining her companions would be to persevere in that direction. Guiding her steps, then, by the staff which she always carried, she continued, with incredible dexterity, to avoid the masses of ruin that encumbered her path—to thread the streets—and unerringly (as blessed was that accustomed darkness, so afflicting in ordinary life!) to take the nearest direction to the sea-side.
The sculptor showed Nydia, ironically no more blind than all the other inhabitants of the city in the global darkness that enveloped Pompeii, but blessed with an acute sense of hearing, which Rogers indicated by the hand Nydia held to her ear to facilitate the detection of the sound of the sea. The statue was an unprecedented success. Rogers’s studio produced over 167 versions of Nydia in two sizes in the course of his career.