Artist:Mort Kunstler Title: Brief Encounter (2005) Edition: Artist Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Print. Image size: 19 x 26 1/4" (Paper) 23" x 32" (Canvas) About the Art: Mort Künstler's Comments: Virginia’s Piedmont is one of my favorite places. Not only is it beautiful in every season but it is so typical of the Civil War. Dramatic and important events occurred there. Wartime careers were made and lost. Many of the military leaders there were competent commanders, while others were hopeless bunglers. The war in the Piedmont, like the war at large, revealed Americans at their best and their worst. And – there was also an extraordinary amount of courage and sacrifice shown on both sides.
One of the most picturesque areas in the Piedmont is Middleburg, and that’s where I have set Brief Encounter – outside the Red Fox Inn, which was known as the Beveridge House during the war. It dates to the 1700s, and is an interesting looking building that I feel captures the spirit of the region. Understandably, it has undergone a number of changes over the centuries, but current evidence has allowed me to paint the building as it existed at the time of the Civil War. Local historian Audrey Bergner helped me with the details.
There are four dormers on the roof now; during the 1860s there were two. The porches were different during the war, but the distinctive twin chimneys on the west side of the building are unchanged – as well as the unusual window alignment on the second floor. To anyone traveling east on Middleburg’s Washington Street today, it’s easy to pick out the present Red Fox Inn.
There were other artistic challenges with this painting. I decided to use this historic setting to represent how the fortunes of war produced so many partings and so many fleeting encounters. I painted the main figures small, as if dwarfed by the events of war, and used a number of different artistic devices. I utilized the lamp light from the inn to silhouette the figures, and then emphasized the warm light by making the scene a cool color moonlit night.
Noted author and historian James I. Robertson, Jr., was my source for weather conditions while Joshua Ruff and the staff at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages were of great help to me on the sleigh and the harnesses.
The cavalry squadron is depicted in a brief calm moment. The soldiers are checking their weapons and equipment before going out on patrol. One soldier is checking the harness on the team of horses. Others wait patiently to move out. The center of interest is an officer tipping his hat to a young woman. Is he saying goodbye to his wife or a sweetheart? Or is it a chance encounter that holds hope for the future? You can decide. Either way, it’s a “leave-taking” in the midst of war and there may be no return.
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