COLUMBIA — Mort Künstler’s Civil War art is known around the world and is prized by collectors. The South Carolina State Museum’s exhibit of his paintings, “For Us the Living: The Civil War Art of Mort Künstler,” has drawn praise and interest among art enthusiasts and historians alike.
But for all the expectations of battle and heroism the subject of the war conjures, Künstler just as often goes for the smaller moments, the tender asides, the very human stories that counterbalance the often dehumanizing aspects of combat.
“Each painting tells a story,” Curator of History JoAnn Zeise said. “Sometimes that story concerns the chaos of epic battles. Other times, the story is intimate and personal.”
“The Gunner and the Colonel” portrays the full-scale combat of the Battle of Fort Fisher, N.C., in 1865, a bloody conflict that was “hand-to-hand for nearly six hours,” according to New York soldier Herman Clarke.
As a contrast to that heart-pumping action scenes, Künstler turns his hand to moments of tenderness, kindness and calm.
In “Especially for You,” Künstler presents a quiet gesture of gratitude among a tumult of rejoicing. As Stonewall Jackson’s troops march triumphantly through Winchester, Va., after having routed Union forces, a little girl holding a basket of fruit offers an apple to a young soldier as the townspeople cheer the marching column of boys in gray.
One of the most poignant scenes is “How Real Soldiers Live.” As Jackson, Lee and other officers enjoy a toast over a hot turkey dinner on Christmas 1862, a lone sentry stands his post in the freezing snow outside, looking longingly through the window at the comforts he can’t share.
“Christmas was a time when soldiers tried to put the stress and horror of war aside, even for a moment,” Zeise said. “And that is what Mr. Künstler captures so well, moments that help us understand the human stories of that terrible conflict.”
Künstler’s paintings demonstrate that war is not all — or even mostly — battle, blood or glory. It’s life going on between the moments of conflict, and in “For Us the Living,” Künstler shows that life brilliantly.
The exhibit can be seen through April 7 in the fourth-floor Recent Acquisitions Gallery.
Considered one of America’s greatest historical artists, Mort Künstler has become well known for the extraordinary authenticity and drama of his work. Mr. Künstler has created paintings that educate and enrich the viewer’s understanding of some of the most important events in American history.
All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Knstler, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright 2001-2011. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.