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16 JUNE 2011

North American Progress: expansion as a spiritualised feminine figure

"George Crofutt, publisher of a fashionable western travel guide series, commissioned the creation of 'American Progress' by the Brooklyn resident, painter, and lithographer, John Gast. Crofutt reproduced the petite painting, done in 1872, as a color lithograph poster and also engraved the image in the guidebooks he published widely circulating the image. The painting depicts a sense of technological development's advancement upon the untamed land like the coming of an impenetrable, inevitable militia with one uncharacteristic exception––the company is led by a feminine figure.

In the wake of four years of Civil War, the creation of the promotional material of 'American Progress' portrays a spiritualized feminine that provides nurturing, protective guidance and fortitude for the extension of civilization over wilderness and the 'uncivilized,' the enigmatic, and the primal. Disembodied, the idealized feminine portrays the evolution of the split of spirit from daily life as well as the sanctified superiority of the immigrants above human beings who lived in harmony with the spirit of the land.

The dominating and centralized angelic being's paradoxical innocence and sensually alluring presence has the effect of distracting and softening the reality and the violence of this movement to 'win the west' where Native Americans depart the frame as non– natives stake claims in the form of prospectors, as settlers: farmers, homesteaders, and travelers. One of the popular artists of the times, Maynard Dixon speaks of the untruth of the romanticized representation of facts as he complained he was being paid to lie in his artwork and portrayals of life on the wild prairie (Dixon).

Fueled by an underlying desire to be free from tyrannical government and the prospect of a new life and livelihood in a world new to them, Euro–Americans manifested suffering and persecution similar to the very situation they sought to escape."

(Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism)

Fig.1 John Gast (1872). "American Progress", painting: oil

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TAGS

1872 • American Progress (painting) • ARAS • Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism • artworkcivil war • civilising • colonial expansioncolonisationcolour lithographdivine destinydivine providenceexpansionism • farmers • feminine figure • George Crofutt • guidebook • homesteaders • ideologyIndigenous • John Gast • manifest destiny • Maynard Dixon • national park • Native AmericansnativesNorth Americanurturingpainterpainting • popular artist • poster • prairie • progresspromotional material • protective guidance • romantic sublimeromanticised • sanctified superiority • settlementspiritualsymbolismtechnological developmentterritoryThe West • travel guide series • travellers • uncivilised • untamed land • untamed wilderness • wildwilderness

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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