Melrose's painting is among the most interesting we've seen so far. Here is an excerpt discussing the painting from a web exhibit titled "Nature and the American Identity" at the University of Virginia:
Melrose is deliberately evoking Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol. While Leutze depicts a mythological scene of Conestoga Wagons, pioneers on horseback, Daniel Boone figures, and truimphant families descending from what must be the Sierra Nevada mountains to find a pastoral landscape of plenty by the Pacific Ocean, Melrose paints a more realistic and ironic scene. Although this scene also shows a tension between wilderness and civilization through the newly constructed log cabin on the left and the standing trees and deer on the right, the jarring presence of the railroad questions the distinction between the two. The cabin is surrounded by the stumps of cleared trees, and the deer run from the intrusion of the train, but have no refuge from it in the human side of the painting. This painting questions the positivism of progress and appeals to a sense of nostalgia for the aboriginal state of American wilderness, which the Romantics would absorb and explore in their art and literature.Lots of commentary on this painting out there.