Mort Künstler's new Lincoln at Gettysburg painting unveiled

Artist Mort Kunstler is shown in his studio Artist Mort Kunstler is shown in his studio with the painting he created to mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. (March 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Seven years ago, Cove Neck artist Mort Künstler glimpsed the newly restored train station in Gettysburg, Pa., and knew he had the subject for another of his acclaimed Civil War paintings.

The result of that inspiration, a scene entitled "Mr. Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg," had its public debut last week at a scheduled appearance by the artist at a gallery in the storied Pennsylvania town to mark this week's 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Along with many other artists, Künstler had depicted, in 1987, the 16th president uttering his famous 270 words at the Nov. 19, 1863, dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery 4 1/2 months after the bloody, climatic battle.

But, he said, "I don't know if anyone's ever thought to do the day he gets to Gettysburg" -- Nov. 18. "The moment I saw the Gettysburg railroad station fully restored in 2006, I knew I wanted to paint the scene of Lincoln's arrival there."

Künstler's idea did not emerge on canvas until a Long Island collector, who declined to be identified, approached him almost a year ago about commissioning a Civil War painting. The collector agreed to the artist's pitch for Lincoln's arrival in Gettysburg.

"I recognized that it could be a great subject with the president as the center of interest, the background of the station, a grand locomotive and the excitement of the crowd," Künstler explained. "I do not think I would have approached the scene if not for the fact that Lincoln stood 6 feet, 4 inches tall. Crowd scenes always present a unique challenge as the main character can become lost in the masses. Lincoln naturally stands out as he wore a stovepipe hat that made him look even more than 7 feet tall at a time when the average height of a man was 5 feet, 6 inches."

Despite two historical errors -- the color of the station and location of the track -- revealed by research that Künstler learned about only after the painting was completed in the spring, the work is winning praise from historians.

Civil War historian and art expert Harold Holzer called the work "a really exciting picture. He captured the enthusiasm of the greeting and Lincoln's stoop."

Holzer, whose likeness Künstler included in the crowd, said he has seen only one other painting of Lincoln's arrival. It was painted in 2008 by Dale Gallon of Gettysburg. While it depicts the station painted historically accurately in gray as opposed to Künstler's mustard yellow, it is not otherwise as accurate, Holzer said.

As is the case with all his paintings, to get the scene as historically accurate as possible, Künstler visited the setting and did extensive research. He consulted with experts on the station, train, weather and other details before painting the station and adjoining track as it appears now.

Only later through a Gettysburg art dealer did he connect with a local expert on the station: William Aldrich, who served on several railroad boards of directors and the committee that restored the depot.

"It's extremely good," Aldrich said. "Unfortunately, what he has painted is the way it looked in 1886."

From the time the building opened in 1858 until restoration began at the beginning of this century, a paint analysis conducted by Aldrich showed the two-story Victorian-style station was painted gray except for nine months of 1886 when it was painted mustard yellow. That color was again applied after the restoration.

In addition, the track shown in the painting and that still exists was a siding in 1863, while the mainline on which Lincoln arrived was on the opposite side of the station.

"I talked with a list of people doing my research and no one could really answer the question" of what the station looked like in 1863, Künstler said, "so I had to fill in the blanks."

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