1970.43, Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable, 1939, Oil on canvas

Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

EMu user since 2006

september"I cannot lie, I did it with my little hatchet" admits a youthful George Washington to his father, thereby passing into American legend. This anecdote of the cherry tree was captured, or rather created, by bookseller and itinerant preacher Parson Mason Locke Weems in 1806, and although the tale lacks historical authenticity Weems' intention it seems was to articulate a moral fact, judging that the tale was "too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted".

In Parson Weems Fable (1939), by Grant Wood, Weems appears in the foreground, drawing back a curtain on the scene at the moment of confession. Wood embellishes the scene through clever use of repeating motifs, such as the spherical shapes in the trees, buttons, cherries, and cherry like curtain fringe. The artist also designed the painting's frame, which repeats the spherical motif with ornamental beading and picks up the star on the house with a series of painted stars.

Although delightfully amusing today, Wood's visual puns, such as his use of the mature Washington's head from a celebrated portrait by Gilbert Stuart, seemed to his contemporaries to satirise and deride the famous legend. (And one might question the virtuousness of Washington's confession ;given that he is caught with the little hatchet in hand: "I cannot lie becuase you've caught me red handed!") Wood, however, claimed that he actually wished to preserve such folklore, especially at a time when fascism was threatening democracy.