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George Bush’s favourite painting

Written By: - Date published: 7:17 am, February 2nd, 2008 - 2 comments
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What does President Bush’s favourite painting say about him? The Guardian trys to find out.

Bush claims that the artwork, which hangs in his office, is a “beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us.”

It turns out that the painting was first used in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 to illustrate a story about a horse thief, and captioned as a picture of his flight from the law.

Four experts weigh in with their opinions.

(Via BoingBoing)

2 comments on “George Bush’s favourite painting ”

  1. AncientGeek 1

    The irony of this is delicious. Particularly the layering of stories. Starts as a gung-ho celebration of thieving. Morphs into a methodist morality tale, and then winds up on the wall of pres who does both.

    For the benefit of the people who don’t read links…

    He urged them to absorb the moral lesson of this “beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us,” he said.

    Sounds typical of the Bush White House. Doing something with a high motivation, but based on something a bit more ugly.

  2. lemsip 2

    “Bush takes special pride in pointing out two paintings he has hung that highlight his motives and legacy. He consciously placed these pictures in the Oval Office at the beginning of his tenure to serve as prescient cultural markers. “The Texas paintings are on the wall because that’s where I’m from and where I’m going,” he says.

    One of them, by little-known painter and illustrator William Henry Dethlef Koerner, titled “A Charge to Keep,” depicts a hatless cowboy followed by two other riders galloping up a hill. Their faces are intent as they pursue some quarry in the distance that cannot be seen by others. Or are they being chased? “I love it,” Bush said, further explaining his intimate feeling for the painting to reporters and editors of the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper. He offered his interpretation: “He’s a determined horseman, a very difficult trail. And you know at least two people are following him, and maybe a thousand.” Bush added that the painting is “based” on an old hymn. “And the hymn talks about serving the Almighty. So it speaks to me personally.” When he was governor of Texas and the painting hung in his office, Bush wrote a note of explanation to his staff: “This is us.”

    W.H.D. Koerner, born in 1878, was a German immigrant who settled with his family in Iowa. After an early stint as a rapid-hand illustrator for the Chicago Tribune before photographs became commonplace in newspapers, he studied at the Howard Pyle School of Art, in Delaware, led by the leading illustrator in the country. Koerner then became a regular illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post, a mass magazine that appealed to small-town sentimentality and mythology in an age before the spread of radio. The magazine’s trademark was its hundreds of covers produced by Norman Rockwell, a commercial artist whose ubiquitous work in advertising and his glossy but homey kitsch for the Saturday Evening Post gained him a reputation as one of the definers of everyday Americana.

    The magazine used Koerner especially to provide pictures to accompany short stories about cowboys. In 1912, it gave Koerner the choice assignment of illustrating Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage.” The Koerner painting that now hangs in the Oval Office first appeared as an illustration for a cowboy story called “The Slipper Tongue” in the June 3, 1916, issue. The next year, the magazine reprinted the illustration to accompany another cowboy story, “Ways That Are Dark.” (Both of the writers of these short stories were forgettable figures in the western pulp fiction tradition, originated in the late 19th century by Ned Buntline, inventive publisher of Wild West dime novels and mythologizer of “Buffalo Bill” Cody and “Wild Bill” Hickok, who in the process became the wealthiest author of his time.) Two years after his illustration was first printed, Koerner resold it to Country Gentleman magazine, to go with another western called “A Charge to Keep.” The editors of Country Gentleman didn’t seem to mind that the picture had been used twice before by another publication.

    In 1995, at Bush’s inaugural as governor of Texas, his wife, Laura, selected an 18th century Methodist hymn, written by Charles Wesley, titled “A Charge to Keep.” Its words in part are:

    A charge to keep I have,
    A God to glorify,
    A never-dying soul to save,
    And fit it for the sky.

    To serve the present age,
    My calling to fulfill:
    O may it all my powers engage
    To do my master’s will!

    After the ceremony, one of Bush’s childhood friends, Joseph I. “Spider” O’Neill, managing partner of his family’s oil and investment company, told him that he owned a painting, remarkably enough titled “A Charge to Keep,” and that he would happily lend it to the governor. O’Neill and his wife, who attended Southern Methodist University with Laura, as it happened had also played Cupid in arranging the first date between George and Laura. Presented with the cowboy painting, Bush enthusiastically displayed it at the Governor’s Mansion and now the White House.

    The idea of Bush as a Christian cowboy, dashing upward and onward to fulfill the Lord’s commandments, inspired him to title his campaign autobiography (written by his then communications advisor, Karen Hughes) “A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House.” Sample: “I could not be governor if I did not believe in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans.”


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