Artist: Mort Kunstler
Title: Final Mission, The
Size: 22" x 33"
Edition: Artist Signed and Numbered, Limited Edition to 10
Medium: AP Print on Paper
About the Art: Mort Kunstler’s Comments
When the H.L. Hunley was recovered from Charleston harbor in 2000, I watched the television coverage with the same fascination that affected most students of the Civil War. How remarkable! The long-lost Hunley – first submarine to sink a ship in warfare – had actually been raised from its watery grave! Despite my interest in the salvage of the vessel, I have to admit that I did not think about painting the Hunley. I had painted the engagement between the Monitor and the Virginia, but my primary focus has always been the ground war. I was also juggling a multitude of projects at the time.
Then, on one of my regular visits to Charleston, the chairman of the Hunley Commission, South Carolina Senator Glenn McConnell, invited me to examine the Hunley at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. I happened to visit the day that the Hunley’s senior conservator, Paul Mardikian, first opened the famous gold pocket watch carried by the Hunley’s commander, Lieutenant George E. Dixon.
What a memorable day! The Hunley is such an extraordinary vessel – so sophisticated-looking and advanced for its day. And the crew members – what exceptionally courageous Americans! As I stood there looking down at this famous American submarine, I was captured by the history, tragedy and adventure associated with the Hunley. So, when Senator McConnell asked if I would be interested in serving as an “Official Artist” for the H.L. Hunley -- I immediately accepted. The result is this painting – The Final Mission.
Like all of my paintings, this one required a lot of research. I went out to Sullivans Island and Breach Inlet overlooking Charleston harbor, and examined the launch site for the Hunley’s last mission – the site where the scene in this painting occurred. The scene I’ve painted here is set at approximately 6:30 p.m. on February 17, 1864. High tide has crested, and the tide is shifting seaward again. That, of course, will help the crew propel the Hunley through Breach Inlet and toward her target -- the USS Housatonic.
I realized that this would be the first officially sanctioned image of the Hunley, so I felt a serious burden of responsibility to faithfully portray the vessel, its crew and the surroundings in the most authentic manner – based on a wealth of research. It’s the first time that Lieutenant Dixon and the crew have been authentically portrayed. I have included many of the major artifacts that were recovered from the Hunley -- a signal lantern, compass box, canteens, buttons, tobacco pipes and, of course, the famous pocket watch that Lieutenant Dixon carried.
I worked extensively with Dr. Robert Neyland, the Hunley project manager, as well as experts at the Navy Historical Center in Washington, D.C., Senator McConnell and the professional conservators at the Lasch lab. I received copies of x-rays, site photos, artifact photos, facial reconstructions based on remains, DNA findings, Civil War tidal records, weather data and information on the phases of the moon in February of 1863. in addition to an unending list of measurements that had to be translated into perspective and put eventually on canvas. Of course, modern Charleston is much different from the city of the Civil War, so I based my reconstruction of Battery Marshall -- with the Second National Flag of the Confederacy flying over it -- on the period painting done by Southern artist Conrad Wise Chapman.
Painting The Final Mission was an exhausting, but exhilarating experience for me. Thanks to the enormous amount of research assistance I received, I believe that the painting will stand the test of time. I hope that generations of Americans will be able to visit the restored Hunley, examine the submarine closely – then study this painting and understand what that incredible last mission was really like. The Hunley -- and, hopefully, this painting -- deserve to be preserved as a cherished symbol of the innovative spirit, valor and sacrifice that was so common to Americans of the 19th century.