John Gast (painter)

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American Progress (1872)

John Gast (21 December 1842, Berlin, Prussia – 26 July 1896, Brooklyn. New York City),[1] was a Prussian-born painter, printer and lithographer who lived and worked most of his life in Brooklyn, New York. He is most famous for painting American Progress, an allegory of Manifest Destiny that was widely disseminated in chromolithographic prints. Other than that, little is known about him.

American Progress[edit]

Gast's most famous painting, American Progress, has become a seminal example of American Western art. The painting serves as an allegory for the Manifest Destiny and American westward expansion. The painting was commissioned by George Crofutt, a publisher of American Western travel guides, in 1872 and was been frequently reproduced. The female in the center is called "Progress" and on her head is what Crofutt calls "The Star of the Empire." Progress moves from the light-skied east to the dark and treacherous West, leading white settlers who follow her on foot or by stagecoach, horseback, conestoga wagon and wagon train, or steam trains.[2] She lays a telegraph wire with one hand and carries a school book in the other. As she moves westward, indigenous people and a herd of buffalo are seen fleeing her and the settlers.[3]

American Progress visually portrays the process of American westward expansion. The figure of Progress is ushering an era of modernization, development, and advancement to the West, which in the painting is portrayed as a dark and savage place, especially when compared to the eastern side of the painting. But, with the ushering in of these developments, the indigenous people living in the West and their way of life is cast out.

American Progress is also an allegory of Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis, the American Western history framework derived from his essay, The Significance of the Frontier in American History.


  1. ^ Obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle July 27, 1896, p. 7, c. 2
  2. ^ "American Progress". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  3. ^ Sandweiss, Martha A. "John Gast, American Progress, 1872". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 

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