Artwork Detail

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap
American, 1811–1879
Oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 50 1/4 "
Gift of Nathaniel Phillips, 1890
WU 2171
The narrative landscapes of Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham, a significant contributor to early American genre painting, were influential in crafting and disseminating political ideologies and popular myths about American national identity in the era of westward expansion. Here Bingham uses Christian and classical iconography to celebrate Daniel Boone and his explorations of the American West seventy-five years earlier, specifically his entrance into the tribal territories of Kentucky. Boone’s stance is modeled after the ancient Greek sculpture of the Spear-Bearer of Polykleitos, which was emblematic of male beauty; he is shown emerging with his caravan from a foreboding valley into the dramatic light of the foreground, evoking Moses leading his people toward the Promised Land. Boone’s wife sits prominently atop a white horse with a shawl draped around her body and head, suggesting the figure of the Virgin Mary. The triumphant passage of the group through the landscape, with its sublime valley, menacing cliffs, and storm-damaged trees, lends further authority to their civilizing mission, symbolically sanctioning westward expansion. [Permanent collection label, 2016]