Mr. Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg April 15 2014

Historical Information:

On Wednesday, November 18, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln arrived in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to attend the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. His appearance came just four and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg had ravaged the town and the surrounding region. Although the nation was still caught up in the American Civil War, this opportunity to consecrate hallowed ground offered a welcome reprieve for both the weary president and local spectators. The following day, Lincoln delivered what would become one of the most poignant speeches in American history, but for now, his arrival was celebrated with a campaign-like atmosphere.

The train that brought the president to Gettysburg also carried his secretaries, three members of his cabinet, a number of foreign ministers, and members of the military from Washington and Baltimore. The large crowd that was assembled at the station included Edward Everett, the keynote speaker for the ceremonies, and local attorney David Wills, who was the president’s host during his stay. As he left the passenger car, Lincoln was greeted with a round of cheers.

Despite his stately appearance, the president felt fatigued from his trip and was later diagnosed with a mild case of smallpox. In addition to the war effort, he was also worried about his son, who was ill at the time. Upon his arrival, Lincoln was handed a telegram that lifted his spirits. Tad was feeling much better. That evening, a more-relaxed president enjoyed dinner at the Wills’ residence and a serenade by the Fifth New York Artillery Band before retiring early to finalize his famous address. Although he spent only twenty-four hours in Gettysburg, Lincoln forever altered the town’s history with two hundred seventy-two words that continued to reverberate for the generations that followed.

Mort Künstler's Comments:

The moment I saw the Gettysburg Railroad Station fully restored in 2006 I knew I wanted to paint a scene of Lincoln’s arrival there. 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. Although the inspiration for the piece came easily, the composition for it was challenging and the first thought of doing it was intimidating. It would be, perhaps, the most difficult painting in a long career of difficult paintings.

Fortuitously, a number of events encouraged me. As 2013 commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, I felt that I should do a painting to honor the event. I had already painted the scene of Lincoln delivering his speech, so when the Railroad Station was finally restored, it triggered the idea for a different perspective. The last time I was in Gettysburg I had breakfast at the Lincoln Diner. That location is near the exact spot that this scene takes place and it reminded me of the event. I do not think that I would have approached this scene if not for the fact that Lincoln stood six feet four 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 more than seven feet tall at a time when the average height of a man was five feet six inches. I knew that I would have no trouble making the eye go to Lincoln and to heighten the effect, I painted the black of his hat against the lightest part of the sky to create the most contrast. I also used perspective to draw the lines of the train and building toward Lincoln in order to ensure that he remained the focus of attention.

The train station is located one short block off the main plaza of Gettysburg. The Wills House, where Lincoln stayed the night before the famous speech, is on the plaza and is now a National Park Service museum dedicated to telling the story of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I thought it would be natural to choose David Wills as the one in the painting to be greeting the president. A small contingent of soldiers from the Veterans Reserve Corps accompanied Lincoln on his trip to Gettysburg. Some of them are seen surrounding the president.

After completing the painting early this year, I became acquainted with William Aldrich, who has been instrumental in the effort to save and restore the original station. Through meticulous research, Mr. Aldrich uncovered the information that the most likely locomotive supporting the Lincoln entourage was the Conewago. Additionally, through carbon dating of the seven layers of paint on the station, Mr. Aldrich was able to confirm that originally the building was a gray tone. When in Gettysburg, don’t miss the detailed model of the Conewago that Mr. Aldrich built and donated to the station.

I’m very pleased... and exhausted with the completion of this long term undertaking. I thought it might be of interest to some of you to see a few of the comments that were made by the various authorities I checked with on this painting:

"Every time I hear that Mort is doing a painting I get an idea of what it will look like when he’s done, but I’m always knocked out by the final product. This is really a great painting and I love the composition!"

    ~ John Heiser, Historian, Division of Visitor Services National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park

"Mort’s work brings alive an incredible moment in our nation’s history. I am pleased that he has chosen Lincoln’s arrival at Gettysburg station. By doing so he captures the significance of railroading in the everyday life of 19th-century Americans. A well-done masterpiece."

    ~ Dave Shackelford, Chief Curator, B&O Railroad Museum

"What a magnificent painting, each figure is so beautifully painted and contributes so greatly to the whole. The narrative behind the piece is truly wonderful as well."

    ~ Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator, Norman Rockwell MuseumX