Mason Locke Weems (1756–1825), known as Parson Weems, penned the fable of Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. With the rise of fascism in the 1930s, Wood felt a painting that harkened back to the father of the republic and legendary mystique of George Washington could boost the country’s patriotism.

Wood shows Weems gesturing toward a six-year-old George confessing to his father with the famous phrase, “I cannot tell a lie.” Rather than depicting young Washington, Wood borrowed the head from Gilbert Stuart’s iconic portrait of the first president, making him instantly recognizable, building on nineteenth-century beliefs that when it came to portraits of George, even if “a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it; for, the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart.”


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