Wednesday, May 18, 2011

John Gast 's ‘American Progress’ (1872)



John Gast's 'American Progress' represents the American people quest of their of the Manifest Destiny and ultimately the American dream. Manifest Destiny was the belief that the United States has the right to expand and spread freedom and spread Christianity westwards.

The central focus of the painting is the angel like woman who is leading the way along the Oregon trail which is represented by the wagons. The right of the picture represents the industrialised East with steamships and cities which indicate civilisation whereas the darkness of the left represents the wilderness in which the people sought to conquer. The native Americans, bears and buffalo flee from the Americans as they are pushed back as these 'civilised' people take over a great part of North America.

This landscape painting was used as propaganda to encourage people to go West in search of a new and enriched life. It also seeks to persuade the public that their actions in regards to the Native Americans were right as they would either settle somewhere else or be enlightened and convert to Christianity and therefore be saved. This leads to the question of whether the American people should be proud of this painting as it not only depicts them moving West and conquering the wilderness and the native people but the beginning of their imperialist mission in the name of freedom and democracy.

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