By way of Martini Revolution, I came across this Scott Horton post about Bush’s favorite painting, “A Charge to Keep.” We definitely need better art history education in the U.S., if for no other reason than to prevent people from embarrassing themselves. Horton:
Bush was so taken by it [“A Charge to Keep”], that he took the painting’s name for his own official autobiography. And here’s what he says about it:
I 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.
So in Bush’s view (or perhaps I should say, faith) the key figure, with whom he personally identifies, is a missionary spreading the word of the Methodist Christianity in the American West in the late nineteenth century.
Erm, not so much:
Now, however, Jacob Weisberg has solved the mystery. He invested the time to track down the commission behind the art work and he gives us the full story in his forthcoming book on Bush, The Bush Tragedy:
[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.
Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.”
So Bush’s inspiring, prosyletizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob.