GRANT WOOD (1892-1942)

Parson Weems' Fable

signed Grant Wood and dated 1939, l.l.--charcoal, pencil and chalk on paper

38¼ x 50in. (97.2 x 127.5cm.)
Acquired directly from the artist
John Wellwood Nesbit, Maple Bluff, Wisconsin
by descent in the Nesbit Family
Sale: New York, Christie's, May 31, 1985, no. 276
D. Garwood, Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood, New York, 1944, p. 222, 224-226, 229, 237
J. Zug, ed., This is Grant Wood Country, Davenport, Iowa, 1977, p. 55
J. Dennis, Grant Wood, New York, 9175, pp. 112-114, 116, 135, 191, 240, p. 191, illus.
J. Dennis, "An Essary into Landscapes: The Art of Grant Wood", Kansas Quarterly, Manhattan, Kansas, vol. 4, no. 4, Fall 1972, p. 54, p. 116, fig. 83, illus.
W. Corn, "The Painting that Became a Symbol of a Nation's Spirit", Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., November, 1980, Vol. 11, no. 8, p. 90


J.M. Dennis, Grant Wood, The Graphic Work: An Appreciation (exhibition catalogue), Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March, 1972, n.p.
E.A. Maser, Grant Wood: 1891-1942 (A Retrospective Exhibition Catalogue), Lawrence, Kansas, April 1959, nop., no. 47, illus.
E.B. Green, "A Grant Wood Sampler", The Palimpest, Iowa City, Iowa, January, 1974, p. 15-16
K.A. Marling, "Don't Knock Wood", Art News, New York, September, 1983, pp. 95-97, p. 96, illus.
Santa Monica, California, Bolen Gallery, Grant Wood: Paintings, Drawings & Lithographs, January 9-February 1, 1983, no. 6, n.p., illus.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, June-Sept. 1983, p. 120, no. 146, illus. (this exhibition also travelled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Sept. 1983-Jan. 1984; Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute, Jan.-April 1984; San Francisco, California, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, May-Aug. 1984)

Lot Essay

When Grant Wood first exhibited Daughters of the American Revolution in 1931, the critical response was unkind. Those unaccustomed to his wit, confused his satirical vision for a lack of patriotism and respect for his country. Similarly, the initial response to Parson Weems' Fable suggested that Wood was poking fun at George Washington, the father of our country. Wood, however, was passionate about American folklore and in effect is attempting to immortalize the Parson and his fanciful tale about Washington's childhood.

In a 1940 interview, Wood explained his intentions in Parson Weems' Fable:

"When I was a boy, we all learned the story of George Washington and the cherry tree and accepted it as gospel truth. The present, more enlightened younger generation, however, is well aware that this incident never happened, but that it was the invention of Washington's most famous biographer, the Rev. Mason Locke Weems.

It is, of course, good that we are wiser today and recognize historical fact from historical fiction. Still, when we began to ridicule the story of George and the cherry tree and quit teaching it to our children, something of color and imagination departed from American life. It is this something that I am interested in helping to preserve.

As I see it, the most effective way to do this is frankly to accept these historical tales for what they are now known to be-folklore-and treat them in such a fashion that the realistic-minded, sophisticated people of our generation accept them......

I sincerely hope that this painting will help reawaken interest in the cherry tree tale and other bits of American folklore that are too good to lose." (1940) (J. Liffring-Zug, This is Grant Wood Country, p. 55)

The present example is a cartoon for the oil of the same title that is in the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of Art, Ft. Worth, Texas. The cartoon is in its original frame which was designed by the artist.

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