American Paintings: American Progress by John Gast

“The ‘winning of the West, has been a spiritual much more than a merely physical conquest. And the spiritual history of the West has been the history of the formation of local institutions,–the tale of the rise of local traditions and of local loyalty.” ~ Josiah Royce

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John Gast’s “American Progress” (1872)

In John Gast’s “American Progress,” (1872) a diaphanously and precarious clad America floats westward thru the air with the “star of empire” on her forehead. She has left the cities of the East behind, and the wide Mississippi, and still her course is westward. In her right hand she carries a school book–testimonial of the national enlightenment, while with her left she trails the slender wires of the telegraph that will bind the nation. Fleeing her approach are indians, buffalo, wild horses, bears, and other game, disappearing into the storm and waves of the Pacific coast. They flee the wonderous vision–the star “is too much for them.”–precis of a contemporary description of this painting by George Crofutt who distributed his engraving of it widely.

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