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Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way
1861
oil
33 1/4 x 43 3/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Sara Carr Upton



This dramatic image of westward expansion is a study for a mural in the United States Capitol, one of the most ambitious statements of cultural nationalism during the mid-nineteenth century. Leutze combined pioneer men and women, mountain guides, wagons, and mules to suggest a divinely ordained pilgrimage to the Promised Land of the western frontier. In the border, medallion portraits of explorers Captain William Clark and Daniel Boone flank a vista of the San Francisco Bay—the ultimate Western destination. Above, a bald eagle holds a scroll on which is lettered “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,— while Indians escape in a maze of winding plant tendrils. The painting's title is taken from a poem written in 1726 by Irish poet George Berkeley, which became a motto for Manifest Destiny in America after 1850.