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  Seth Eastman's Fort Paintings
Principal Fortifications of the United States
 West Point, New York
(1875) by Seth Eastman
 
 West Point, New York 

Neither signed nor dated by the artist, this is the painting Seth Eastman was completing when he died in 1875. The painting is unique in the series because the fort is not seen except at its perimeter gun placement. Instead, the viewer stands just above this small proscenium and looks out at a scene of the Hudson River. The setting was familiar to 19th-century Americans from the large number of paintings and prints of it already existing. West Point was not an active fort at this time. In 1802, after its crucial Revolutionary War role in preventing a British advance down the river to New York City, West Point became a military academy under the patronage of President Thomas Jefferson.

Even before the Civil War, West Point had become a tourist destination because of its fame, its proximity to New York City, and its picturesque location. In the painting, a woman, escorted by a cadet, tours the grounds. This work, alone among the fort paintings, shows some military activity–-the cadets are learning to prepare a cannon for firing. An officer-instructor stands second from the left; two boys ram the charge home in the large cannon’s barrel. Two smaller pieces of ordnance are also shown. But it is the Hudson River, its high banks framing the water where pleasure boats cruise, that draws the eyes away from the busy foreground and into the serene distance.


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  Principal Fortifications of the United States

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