This painting hangs in the White House Oval Office. It was lent to the current US President by one of his oil company friends. How G.W. Bush sees this painting and the real story behind it are worlds apart.
In May 2006 Jonathan Hutson of Talk2Action wrote about the mythÂ it appears G.W. Bush actually believes about this piece of art. Recently the story has been picked up by other major outlets such as Slate and Harpers Magazine as well as bloggers. Many journalists, being shown around the Oval Office take what the President says at face value.
This painting by W.H.D. KoernerÂ first appeared as an illustration in 1916 for a short story entitled The Slipper Tongue.Â The story is about a Nevada horse thief, and the illustration would have not have to have been explained to readers. However, it was, under the illustration was the caption “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.â€
Fast forward to the end of theÂ 20th and beginning of theÂ 21st centuries, the Oval Office and G.W. Bush. He has dubbed this painting “A Charge to Keep” which is his presidency slogan. The words come from a Charles Wesley hymn. Â Here is what the US President tells White House visitors:
[Hanging in my office is] a beautiful oil painting by W.H.D. Koerner entitled A Charge to Keep. The painting, inspired by the hymn, [pictures] a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep & rough trail. This is us. [The painting and] hymn have been an inspiration for me & for members of my staff. “A Charge to Keep” calls us to our highest and best. It speaks of purpose and direction. In many hymnals, it is associated with a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
Wesley didn’t write the hymn based on Corinthians 4:2. He wrote it on “an exposition on Leviticus 8:35 by the Â Eighteenth Century Christian writer Matthew Henry.”
Bush believes this illustration isÂ of a Methodist circuit rider fleeing people who don’t want to hear the gospel. He got the title “A Charge to Keep” from:
Â The painting illustrated a short story by Ben Ames Williams, published by Country Gentleman Magazine in 1918. And the name of that story was “A Charge To Keep.” But that doesn’t mean the painting shares the story’s title.Â
The original piece of art is of aÂ horse thief is fleeing a lynch mob.Â The Saturday Evening Post likedÂ W.H.D. Koerner’s illustration so much it used it a year later to illustrate an a short story, “Ways that are Dark.”Â The caption under the illustration read: “Bandits Move About From Town to Town, Pillaging Whatever They Can Find.”Â Â
Koerner’s illustration was picked up again in 1918 by the magazine A Country Gentleman for the story, “A Charge to Keep.”
In 1944 The Los Angeles Times carried an interview with Koerner’s daughter:
Mr. Koerner’s daughter Ruth Koerner Oliver explained to the Los Angeles Times in an interview dated January 28, 1994, that her father’s inspiration came directly from studying the magazine stories that he illustrated.
“The magazine would send my father a story. He would read it and pick out a part (to illustrate) that he thought would make people read the story. You have to remember that this was long before radio and television, so people had to read in those days. The magazines were in their prime years.”
And Mr. Koerner himself confirmed that he drew his inspiration directly from the stories he illustrated in a 1932 interview. “I try to draw the man the author describes . . . I concentrate on the character until it comes alive and I can see him in my mind’s eye.” (W.H.D. Koerner, quoted by Wesley Stout, “Yes, We Read the Story,” The Saturday Evening Post, June 25, 1932, p. 38.)
The intent of an artist and how a viewer sees their work are often distinct. Wesley would not be impressed with with re-interpretation of his hymn’sÂ inspiration either.
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The US government employs historians,Â the current President likes his myth of the lone cowboy charging up a hill. If historians have attempted to correct him,Â attemptsÂ appears to have been ineffective. From State.Â Jacob Weisberg, The Bush Tragedy:
In an April 1995 memo, Bush invited his staff to come to his office to look at a painting. â€¦ The picture is a Western scene of a cowboy riding up a craggy hill, with two other riders following behind him. Bush told visitorsâ€”who often noted his resemblance to the rider in frontâ€”that it was called A Charge To Keep and that it was based on his favorite Methodist hymn of that title, written in the eighteenth century by Charles Wesley. As Bush noted in the memo, which he quoted in his autobiography of the same title: â€œI thought I would share with you a recent bit of Texas history which epitomizes our mission. When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.â€ Bush identified with the lead rider, whom he took to be a kind of Christian cowboy, an embodiment of indomitable vigor, courage, and moral clarity.
For an update see Bruce Wilson’s latest post.
You can seeÂ President Bush talk about the painting in the video tour of the Oval Office.
Man seeks to escape himself in myth, and does so by any means at his disposal. Drugs, alcohol, or lies. Unable to withdraw into himself, he disguises himself. Lies and inaccuracy give him a few moments of comfort. – Jean Cocteau
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.Â – John F. Kennedy
About Bene Diction
Have courage for the great sorrows, And patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplished your tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
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9 Responses to A myth to keep – G.W. Bush and his cowboy painting
Laurie D. T. Mann says:
January 27, 2008 at 3:58 pm
Since when has Bush ever let facts get in the way of anything he thinks?
“Facts Don’t Matter: An Ongoing Record of the Lies of the George W. Bush Administration and Its Cronies”
January 28, 2008 at 5:38 am
What a perfect symbol for the Bush maladministration: the conflation of evangelism and crime.
And the complete misrepresentation of reality in Bush’s description of the painting is the perfect symbol for Bush’s psyche.
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January 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm
“Koernerâ€™s illustration was picked up again in 1918 by the magazine A Country Gentleman for the story, â€œA Charge to Keep.â€”
So if Bush got this story from a friend who gave him the painting who read the above story in the magazine A Country Gentleman how does this show anything negative about Bush.
“A Charge to Keep”, 1915,
original is oil on canvas, 28 X 40″,
done as an Illustration in both a Saturday Evening Post Magazine in 1916 for the William J. Neidig Short Story, “The Slipper Tongue” and, later, for that magazine in George Patullo’s 1917 Short Story, “Ways That Are Dark”, and, later,
in the 1918 Short Story, of that name, by Ben Ames Williams, for Country Gentleman Magazine
What this shows is that a pack of liberal ferrets scurry around the internet with nothing to do but dig up stuff. However any reasonable person would accept the story a friend told you about a gift. And even if you doubted him and checked on the web you would find what I found. It had several titles, in fact a new one each year for four years 1915 thru 1918. A “Charge to Keep” appears to be the last title used.
This episode does not reflect poorly on Bush but upon the Bush hating ankle biting nanna nanna boo booers who still think “pull my finger” is highbrow humor. The intellectuals (perjorative) can’t stand the fact that Bush stumbles onto the right answer and they’re smarter than him (ha)and why doesn’t everyone recognise that and they won in 2000 and the injustice of it all.
January 28, 2008 at 12:44 pm
why did you take my response off?
January 28, 2008 at 12:46 pm
Why diiiiiiiid u take it off?
January 28, 2008 at 12:51 pm
Bene Diction says:
January 28, 2008 at 3:18 pm
I’m not sure what you are upset about.
Your comment was in the moderating cue, I just got in the door.
I’m assuming you mean your first one at 12:31.
I believe all your comments are up, if they aren’t please get in touch and I’ll insert them manually.
Ferret, ankle biting nanna nanna boo booers, intellectual (perjorative), coward.
If this had been the story of a painting in 24 Sussex would you have felt so ignored?
I think the story of the painting and it’s ownership is interesting. I’m sorry you have a problem with that. And I’m sorry you are upset your comments are put in cue along with everyone else.
Do you feel better?
February 13, 2008 at 9:39 am
The final title used does not matter, the fact is that the image was commissioned as the illustration for “The Slipper Tongue.” The original commission reflects the purpose and circumstance under which it was created. The assumption, ignorance, and lack of research on George H W Bush’s behalf regarding the painting, which has hung in his office since he became governor of Texas, reflect brilliantly and poetically his office and his legacy. He has promoted himself publicly as an evangelist and savior who has ultimately been exposed as a thief of freedom and a witless liar.