SELDOM have painters had a broader and more sweeping theme than the winning of the West, the great American epic of the 19th century. Their canvas was the whole reach from the Mississippi delta swamps to the frozen peaks of the Rockies. Most of the adventurous artists who rode west with military parties and wagon trains are relative unknowns. But their work, brought together by the St. Louis City Art Museum's Director Perry T. Rathbone to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, makes a vibrant, graphic history of a great age (see color pages).

George Catlin was the first artist to replace...

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