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The Doges’ Palace, Venice

Egisto Manzuoli

Artwork Details

The Doges’ Palace, Venice
19th century
Egisto Manzuoli
oil on canvas
20 1/2 in. x 33 in. ( 52.07 cm x 83.82 cm )
Bequest of Henry C. Lewis

On Display

Not currently on display


March 28, 2009
In this painting a wagon train of American pioneers crossing the prairie is attacked by a group of Native Americans armed with tomahawks and bows and arrows; as the men in the first wagon take up arms to defend themselves, their comrades rush forward to join the fight. The Attack on an Emigrant Train was painted during the height of westward expansion in the United States (1840s–1860s) and is very much a product of its time. Its dramatic staging of two cultures clashing reinforced the doctrine of Manifest Destiny—the belief that European Americans had a right and even a Christian duty to expand throughout the North American continent. According to this theory, Indians were literally an obstruction in the path of American progress. Here they are portrayed as ferocious aggressors arresting the forward movement of the peaceful immigrants. The white man’s steady aim of his gun—taken up to protect women and children who take shelter in the wagons—is contrasted with the chaotic mass of half-clothed warriors armed with simple weapons. Images such as this reinforced the prevailing notion of the Native American as primitive, even savage, and perpetuated the idea they were another element of the untamed landscape that needed to be subdued and civilized. Wimar’s painting became enormously influential, inspiring and establishing a stereotype of attacks on wagon trains that persisted well into the twentieth century.

Subject Matter:

“The Attack on an Emigrant Train” was inspired by the writing of Gabriel Ferry, a contemporary French chronicler of the Gold Rush, and depicts a caravan of American pioneer gold-diggers crossing a prairie, defending themselves against attack by a band of Native Americans. Wimar portrays the Native American as a foe who symbolized hostility and was an obstruction in the path of American progress and territorial expansion.

Physical Description:

;The painting depicts a group of American settlers attempting to defend themselves against attack by a band of Native Americans. A covered wagon pulled by two horses is at the center of the composition; at left, two Native Americans attack the wagon with war clubs and tomahawks; a figure on the lead horse points a pistol directly at the head of one of his attackers, while a figure at the rear of the wagon shoots another attacker. At right other warriors on horseback ride past the train shooting arrows and wielding tomahawks.

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