Parson Weems' Fable Grant Wood Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Grant Wood painted Parson Weem's Fable in 1939, using oil on canvas. The painting depicts the folktale of a young George Washington as a reminder of the foundations of Democracy in America during the escalation of fascism in Europe.

The artist felt that a painting that took American viewers back to the roots and legendary mystique of the father of the republic would boost patriotism in the country.


In the foreground of the painting is Parson Weems in a long green coat with a direct gaze. Parson is gesturing at the young boy, a six-year-old George Washington. Parson’s appears to be unveiling a painting behind large red curtains. This can be seen from his other hand holding back the tassled curtain to reveal the contents behind it. Behind the curtain is a scene of the famous tale of George Washington confessing to cutting down his father’s cherry tree. Parson Weem’s fable is a legendary tale of George Washington's honesty.

The boy in the painting has an adult’s head and a child’s body. Grant Wood humorously appropriated the adult head from a portrait of President George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart in the eighteenth century. The image currently graces the US one-dollar bill. In young George Washington’s hard is a small axe to which he is gesturing. The boy addresses an adult in a long red coat and green hat. The man, Washington’s father, has the hacked tree in his arm. His other arm gestures towards the young boy. According to Parson Weem’s fable, the boy is confessing his actions to his father using the famous phrase, " I cannot tell a lie."


Over the years, there have been numerous re-compositions of the painting. However, Grant Wood’s original Parson Weem’s Fable is currently located at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. The background of the painting features African Americans picking cherries from an averagely-tall tree. This is reminiscent of the history of slavery in the United States. Grant also wanted to show that although Washington was the first President to lead after the independence of African Americans from slavery, his childhood featured the element of slavery. In other words, his family was a slaveholder throughout his life.

The background also features a plantation of cherries and a blue sky partly covered with dark clouds. A prominent brick house also appears behind Washington and his dad. Critics have referred to this painting as one of the creative ways artists used their compositions to display patriotism without ignoring the racial elements of the time. Grant Wood had no economic interest in creating this composition.