Artist: Mort Kunstler Title: White House Strategy Size: Paper: Image Size: 22” x 19 1/4” Overall Size: 27” x 23-1/4” Canvas: 28” x 24”
Edition: S/N 750 About the Art: It was a meeting like no other. Following the Seven Days Campaign in the summer of 1862, Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson left the field to confer with Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Richmond’s Confederate White House. Meeting in the President’s upstairs office, they planned strategy to protect the Confederate capital and save the South. (At times, the President’s rambunctious five-year old son, Jefferson Davis, Jr. – dubbed “the General” by White House staff – would slip into official meetings.)
Ahead lay glittering victories for Lee and Jackson, and high hopes for President Davis. Within a year, however, Jackson would be mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, Lee would be defeated at Gettysburg and Davis would be left to defend an ever-dwindling Confederacy. This unique Confederate council would prove to be the only meeting of the South’s three principal commanders at the Confederate White House.
Mort Künstler’s Comments:
I never tire of visiting the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond. It’s so well preserved, and the architecture and furnishings are extraordinary. After a tour of the adjacent Museum of the Confederacy, a visit to the Confederate White House really does make history come alive for me. On my last visit, I thought about so many opportunities for paintings in the White House. Then I realized that to my knowledge, no artist has ever painted the only time Lee, Jackson and Davis met together there. I’m always looking for ideas that have not been painted, and this struck me as a perfect subject for an exceptional painting. That’s how White House Strategy was born.
One of the biggest challenges in preparing to do a painting such as this is finding accurate likenesses of the people involved. In this case, it was particularly difficult. There are no photos of Lee, Jackson, or Davis as I needed to position them in this painting. We see photographs of each of them often, but they’re the same small number of images – all from a certain angle. Painting Davis was especially challenging because there are no photos of him in profile. However, I’m satisfied that the painting captures his likeness as he really appeared in the summer of 1862.
I learned from the historical staff at the White House of the Confederacy that President Davis – like President Lincoln -- allowed his children to run freely through the house with few restrictions – even when important meetings and affairs of state were underway. The President’s oldest son, Jefferson Davis, Jr., was a precocious child, and with the White House nursery next door to the President’s office, the five-year-old often popped into Davis’ office unannounced.
Davis’ office is on the second floor of the White House and has been beautifully restored. The carpeting, wallpaper, furniture and artifacts are there for visitors to see and they are the basis for what I show in my painting. Of special note is the lamp on the desk that I used to dramatically emphasize Lee and Jackson. It was a gas lamp that was fed from the chandelier above with a hose that can be seen above Lee’s head. While painting White House Strategy, I relied on much of the information furnished to me by the Museum, and I’m thankful to its very knowledgeable experts, Robert Hancock and Dean Knight, for their invaluable assistance. Noted Civil War historian James I. Robertson, Jr. graciously provided valuable details about General Jackson.
White House Strategy is one of the few Civil War paintings that I’ve done which has an interior setting. Most of my paintings are outdoor scenes. For this and all the other reasons I’ve noted here, this painting was very meaningful to me – and I hope the viewer will feel the same way.
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