From the Feltner collection, I was drawn to the section at the end of the museum, which only hosted works about the Civil War. After going through all the pieces, I settled on the one titled After the Snow for this analytical review.
The painting is set in the Winchester, in War period of the 1860s, and it appropriately fits in the Civil War interest of the Feltner family.
About the artist
Mort Künstler is well known as a historical artist in the USA, whose main inspiration came from the American Civil War (“Mort Künstler: America’s artist” par. 1). He was born in 1931 and he attended the Brooklyn College, Pratt Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), graduating in 1953.
His first job after college was in the print industry, where he provided illustrations for books and magazines (“Mort Künstler: America’s artist” par. 2). He also created posters for films like The Poseidon Adventure and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
In the 1970s Künstler switched focus to painting, with his initial works touching on American history, starting with life in prehistoric America to the odyssey of the space shuttle. This work attracted the interest of serious collectors, which gave him the motivation to continue painting.
In the 1980s, he started working on paintings from the American Civil War, with most of his works being done in the Oil on Canvas technique. The painting After the Snow was created in 1998, with 2750 limited edition prints released (“Mort Künstler: America’s artist” par. 5).
Description of the painting
For the purpose of providing a comprehensive description of the painting, two elements of composition and two of art will be explained in regards to their relation in the artwork.
The painting After the Snow depicts activities outside the Frederick County Court House in Winchester (Künstler After the Snow 1). The date is 6 January 1862 and it is the winter time. In the painting, there are various items and characters.
First, in the foreground, there are wooden containers and casks. There are vessels on the near right corner and on the ground we can see evidence of thinning snow.
Still in the foreground, there are two policemen on the right, three boys (two in front and one behind) walking towards the centre of the foreground, and two women ahead of them. On the left of the foreground, there is a group of four people – one man and three women, appearing to be engaged in a conversation.
The middle ground is where most of the activity in the painting is. There are at least 15 horses in this particular section, with at least 12 carrying a rider.
One of the horses on the right is tied to a tram, with a lady seated on it. It has no rider and the lady appears to be waiting for the one to move her from the place. There is also a boy playing with a dog, in the centre of the middle ground.
In the background, there are buildings, one of which is the Court house, with clouds forming the extreme background. It is evening, judging from the street lights and other lights scattered around the area.
One of the key elements of composition that Künstler utilized effectively in the painting was balance. Even without giving the subject matter a critical look, one gets a general feeling of a well-structured architecture within the painting (Kiefer The Principles of Composition 1).
If the painting is split in half, from top to bottom, one can easily tell that the amount of activity on the left is almost symmetrically balanced with that on the right. However, the more realistic balance approach that the artist had in mind during the creative process was radial balance.
Each and every item on the painting appears to have been put in place in relation to the activity in the middle-ground.
Künstler intended to depict the peace and tranquility that the people were experiencing and he achieved this by making the people and the activities they were engaged in more prominent than every other item in the picture.
The foreground items appear to have been strategically scattered around the area in order to allow the viewer to notice the reducing snow thickness on the ground, giving relevance to the title of the painting.
Proportion and scale
The painting After the Snow is a realistic artwork and depicts events that possibly happened in real life. In this regard, the approach by Künstler was to make everything appear the way they as if they had a camera to document the scenery.
Everything in the painting is in the right proportion, with children and adults fitting in their respective profiles. By properly placing all the contents of the painting in their right positions and playing around with perspective, Künstler managed to get everything to fit its natural size.
By properly scaling the constituent elements of the painting to each other, the artist managed to include very many items in the artwork, hence making it interesting visually and appealing to the eye, while at the same time giving out the message that the artist intended.
Elements of art
The elements of art that have been well utilized in the painting which are shape and space. In the painting Künstler has used representational shapes to create the image of a real world. The shapes used are not standard and were created as need arose.
The human beings are presented in the realistic way as well as animals, buildings and other elements. Spaces, particularly three-dimensional spaces, have been well used in order to give the painting the photo-realistic feel that the artist had in mind.
In order for every element on the painting to attain its realistic size and appearance, Künstler had to take into consideration its interaction with other elements in the painting and their fit into the available space.
Ultimately, he had to ensure that all the items in the painting had their own unique presence and that they balanced well with all the other constituents (Kiefer The language of Form 1).
Künstler’s style of painting has been replicated throughout his work. For instance, comparing After the Snow with his other work Wayside Farewell (also in the collection) he uses both balance and proportion the same way in both paintings.
Like in After the Snow, in Wayside Farewell the foreground is very minimalistic with most of the detail set in the middle ground to offer balance (Künstler Wayside Farewell 1). Proportion has been achieved by ensuring that every item on the painting is in a realistic scale.
The same applies to the elements of art (shape and space). In both paintings, the artist puts in use representational shapes and makes sure that the spaces between elements are well presented to offer a three-dimensional feel to the paintings.
The main compositional difference between the two paintings consists in the fact that in Wayside Farewell, there is one main subject of interest, the hugging couple. In this painting there is a man and a woman hugging, as if one (most likely the man) is leaving.
It is winter and there is a thick layer of soil on the ground. Surrounded by houses and trees, the couple still commands the attention of the viewer.
This assignment set out to provide a complete evaluation of the painting titled After the Snow, by Mort Künstler. To this end, a brief biography of the painter was provided to help further understand the origins from which the painting under study came from.
With this groundwork set, the discussion delved into a description of the painting, using the elements of composition and art. After this exercise, I value the painting even more, particularly because of the sentimental value it brings to me.
I am very familiar with the environment around the old town of Winchester, and it was interesting to see Winchester in the Civil War era. It was interesting to see a building now and compare it with its original form noting the stark differences.
This sentimental attachment makes me value the painting because I know that even when changes are happening around, I can still visit the museum and appreciate the old times.
Besides using the collection as an aesthetic piece, a teaching lab and a tribute to the Feltners, the University can use the collection for revenue generation by hiring the paintings out to other museums around the world.
The paintings can also be loaned out to state offices and other public establishments such as the White House on a seasonal basis, so that visitors at these places can appreciate the distance that the United States has pass since the days when Civil Wars were the order of the day.
Kiefer, Geraldine. Art 200, Art Appreciation: The language of Form. Shenandoah University, 5 October 2012. Lecture notes.
Kiefer, Geraldine. Art 200, Art Appreciation: The Principles of Composition. Shenandoah University, 5 October 2012. Lecture notes.
Künstler, Mort. Wayside Farewell. 1996. Feltner Museum, Winchester. Oil on canvas.
Künstler, Mort. After the Snow. 1998. Feltner Museum, Winchester. Oil on canvas.