american art

from the colonial period to world war two

George Caleb Bingham, Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap, 1851-52

Emanuel Leutze, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, 1861

Bierstadt, Rocky Mountains: Lander's Peak, 1863

Bierstadt, Donner Lake, California, 1871-72

Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

Frederick Remington, Dash for the Timber, 1889

the american west


people, terms, and concepts: manifest destiny

This topic, about the selling of the American West, weaves together several threads we have already introduced in other contexts, including:

•The idea of Manifest Destiny, that the European colonists had the God-given right -- or even duty -- to spread their enlightened civilization across the continent.  Review what Craven and last week’s Fryd reading say about Manifest Destiny ...

•The issues of contemporary history painting, such as the Bingham and Leutze below. Why would the U.S. government commission a work such as the Leutze for the Capitol building?  What are the works meant to 'say' about the West and the move West?  Why do both works so prominently feature women?

•The use of landscape painting as a major vehicle for ideas and ideology in the American nineteenth century.  Why were artists such as Bierstadt and Moran and photographers such as Carleton Watkins employed by the U.S. government? How did artists adjust the scenes that they painted to more powerfully convey their intended messages?  How is the same true even of photography, which seems like it has to be totally objective and accurate?

•The use of both the picturesque and the sublime mode of landscape painting to advertise the West.  Why do Bierstadt’s paintings so often feature a picturesque foreground and a sublime background, for example?

•Themes about the relationship between “civilization” and “nature”:  to what extent should the West be preserved in its natural state?  To what extent should it be tamed and subjected to human desires?


There are no readings or questions for next week since the museum papers are due and we will be discussing those works in the first half of class.