Thomas Proudley Otter, American, 1832-1890
On the Road, 1860
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 22 1/8 x 45 3/8 inches (56.2 x 115.25 cm) Framed: 33 1/8 x 56 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches (84.14 x 142.88 x 11.43 cm)
Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 50-1
This work is copyrighted. Consult copyright information for permission to reproduce.
Location: Gallery 215
The artist juxtaposes a train speeding straight across the picture with a Conestoga wagon bumping along a rough and winding track and braking hard as it descends the slope towards the railroad bridge. This type of wagon was a symbol of westward migration, but Otter shows that the railroad was taking over in westward expansion.
On the Road is the best known work by Thomas Proudley Otter, who had a studio in Philadelphia in the late 1850s and 1860s before devoting the rest of his career to teaching. Juxtaposing new and old methods of travel—the smooth path of the sleek, fast railway train and the bumpy, circuitous route of the Conestoga wagon—Otter here praised new railroad technology and endorsed the western direction of American progress. Details such as the linear path of the train’s steam and the cloudy puffs of dusts from the wagon further underscore the subject’s meaning. Even so, research has uncovered that the landscape is rooted in eastern Pennsylvania scenery, and neither this type of train nor the wagon was ever used for lengthy trans-Mississippi travels.