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
Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham's Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap is among the most popular American paintings addressing the theme of westward expansion. Rich with symbolism, it helped establish the mythic status of Daniel Boone and legends of western settlement. Like Charles Wimar in The Abduction of Daniel Boone's Daughter by the Indians (1853, WU 4355), Bingham drew from Christian and classical imagery to justify and heroicize westward expansion and the ideal of Manifest Destiny, or the providential mission of the American nation to settle the frontier. Referring to Boone's first journeys into Kentucky in the early 1770s, the group is pictured traveling from east to west, dramatically emerging from the sun-filled landscape in the background and crossing into the dark, foreboding landscape in the foreground, where the snarled trees help signify the dangerous power of nature. Portrayed with idealized features and poses, the intrepid Daniel Boone, a rifle resting on his shoulder, suggests the figure of Moses - an archetype for pioneer patriarchs - leading his people toward the Promised Land, while Rebecca Boone, atop the horse, suggests the Virgin Mary, symbolizing the courageous spirit of pioneer women.