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Parson Weems' Fable

Grant Wood1939

Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Amon Carter Museum of American Art

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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