I Think I’ve Seen This Painting Before


New Release: “Duty, Honor, and Tears” by Mort Kunstler – Yep, I’ve definitely seen this before.  Click here, here, here, here, and here.



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22 comments… add one
  • Dan W. Sep 16, 2009 @ 13:03

    I’m waiting for the follow-up painting when the Confederate army commissary agent shows up to requisition the livestock and crops, leaving the lady and her family destitute.

  • Charles.lovejoy Sep 14, 2009 @ 12:35

    I still think this type of art is way over analyzed

  • Kevin Levin Sep 13, 2009 @ 14:05


    I would like to see this kind of penetrating analysis by Simpson on Ulysses S. Grant. It would be a major revisionist work. 🙂

  • matt mckeon Sep 12, 2009 @ 18:54

    You have made the scales fall from my eyes. This is why they pay you the big bucks. I beg, no I demand! you continue to analyze the other subversive paintings Kevin occasionally posts. It would be irresponsible not to.

  • TF Smith Sep 12, 2009 @ 16:55

    Meta, meta, meta, I made it out of clay…

    The captain looks awfully well turned-out for 1862, doesn’t he?

  • Brooks Simpson Sep 12, 2009 @ 10:58

    This is actually a very good piece of subversive art.

    Mort Kunstler offers a very detailed explanation of the painting that is worth reading, especially in the assumptions it incorporates. You’ll find that in Kevin’s original link.

    Why such detail, I wondered? And what of the assumptions of the people interpreting the piece? Was the artist, in fact, determined to make use of those unexamined assumptions and offer an explanation that would throw us off the track? I suspect that such might be the case.

    Look at the female character. She is looking away from the Confederate officer. She has walked away from her house. She’s standing on a brick crcle that looks like a big manhole cover.

    Clearly this is a woman that is escaping notions of domesticity (away from the house) to express her own notion of duty and honor (loyalty to the Union) by also turning away from the officer (who represents a Confederacy that is doomed to death, as the officer portrayed actually was) as she strides forward into the future as she stands above the top of the place where she conceals escaped slaves (the entrance to the hideaway is concealed by the nearby bushes). She’s looking southward (see the shadows … remember, it’s morning) to make sure no fugitives come forward while the Confederates are present.

    She’s a southern Unionist … who turns away from her husband’s choice of the Confederacy … to find herself on solid ground.

    Why you couldn’t see any of this … well, I don’t know what to say. Kunstler’s text is merely a clever diversion.

  • Sherree Tannen Sep 12, 2009 @ 9:03

    Hi Ken,

    Yes, that is exactly who I am thinking of. From the parts of the autobiography that I have read so far, Wise was so steeped in stereotypes of both black men and women and mountain men and women, that he is quite credible as a representative of his class and tells the tale of black men and women and white southern men and women of the mountains–as seen by a member of his class–quite well through those stereotypical depictions. In other words, he tells the reader what he really thinks, which makes what he then recounts of his actions understandable. (I originally thought the piece was from a diary. The fact that it was meant for publication makes Wise’s observations even more revealing, in the sense that he must have had enough faith in the acceptance of his point of view to want to publish his thoughts.) Interesting. Whether or not some of the mountain men and women were Unionists is an area for in depth study pursued by historians, and it is a very important area for study, as you, Robert, and other historians obviously know very well. For me, the point is important as well, but almost immaterial, when the thoughts and reflections of a Confederate officer concerning black men and women who were slaves, and the white men who might have served under him are considered, and what that says about Wise’s character. The passage to which I referred is classic. I don’t know what your thoughts are on Wise, but so far I have zero sympathy for him. That might change, though. I haven’t read the entire autobiography yet. I’ll keep reading. Thanks for your response, Ken, and thanks also for the suggestions for further reading. I always enjoy your comments.

    Thanks, Kevin, Sherree

  • Ken Noe Sep 12, 2009 @ 6:34

    Sherree, I believe you’re thinking of John S. Wise, who was a VMI student and the son of former governor Henry A. Wise. He discusses operations in Floyd in his 1899 autobiography, “The End of an Era.” Wise spent much of his later adult life as an active Readjuster-Republican.

    Meanwhile, Robert, I believe you’re thinking of my fellow Hokie Rand Dotson. He went on to write a very good article on Floyd County for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. I grew up next door to Floyd in Montgomery County, went to school with several descendants of the leading Unionist family, and wrote about it in my first book. In general, Dotson takes the accounts of organized “Red String” Unionism in southwest Virginia more seriously than I do–I think the government’s evidence was flawed and subjective–but his work is good scholarship nonetheless.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 12, 2009 @ 6:46

      I highly recommend that VMHB article by Rand Dotson. He now works at LSU Press.

  • Robert Moore Sep 12, 2009 @ 4:53


    Yes, Floyd was heavy with Unionists. A few years back, a masters thesis was written about it and (from what I recall), when he made a presentation about his findings, it went over like a ton of bricks with some of the locals… most especially, the UDC. I think his thesis is online. I want to say he graduated from Virginia Tech.

    It’s interesting, because this county was also a major source of men for the 1st Stuart Horse Artillery.

  • Sherree Tannen Sep 12, 2009 @ 3:47


    In an article that included portions of an online diary of a Confederate officer, I came upon an entry in which the officer described an expedition of sorts into Floyd County, Virginia, not to fight Union soldiers but to track down Confederate deserters. According to the officer, there was apparently a lot of “Unionist” sentiment in Floyd County, along with a lot of deserters. Whether the soldiers deserted because they were disaffected, tired of fighting, or true Union sympathizers, I don’t know. The Confederate officer details with apparent relish the way the deserters and dissenters were tracked, however. You may already know of this, but I will send you the information to add to your data. Thanks, Robert, and thanks Kevin.

  • Stephen Graham Sep 11, 2009 @ 20:27

    Definitely no bummers, Robert.

  • George Pillow Sep 11, 2009 @ 19:32

    It’s enough to give Thomas Kinkade diabetes.

    I know some folks consider Kunstler a great artist, but his pictures always remind me of going to a wax museum. Everything is recognizable but nothing looks real. There is no life in his pictures. Howard Pyle painted idealized pirates, but they look as if they could reach out and slice your throat; Kunstler paints idealized Civil War scenes that look as if they were made out of cake frosting.

  • Robert Moore Sep 11, 2009 @ 11:43

    Good point, Heather, regarding the “pathos.” I wonder how he might portray a Southern Unionist heading off to war with the Union army… still, not the “moonlight and magnolias” attributed to the gallant Southerner headed off for service in the Confederate army, so that probably wouldn’t sell as well either. Oh, I know, how about a civilian being taken forcibly taken from his house to serve in the Confederate army… hah, that won’t make a pretty picture either. I suspect we won’t see these images anytime soon… bummer.

  • Charles.lovejoy Sep 11, 2009 @ 11:03

    Just a little side note I would never display this type art or any other modern day romanticized paintings on any subject in my home.

  • Heather Michon Sep 11, 2009 @ 10:52

    Hey, Mort works his comfort zone. He’s clearly got an emotional investment in “farewell” scenes, and Northern “farewell” scenes just don’t have the pathos of the Lost Cause.

    Maybe we should take up a collection and commission a painting of my great-great-great-granddaddy saying goodbye to his wife in a field of cow-pies outside their farmhouse in Vermont? Oh wait — that wouldn’t be pathos. That would be bathos.

    Yes…it’s totally silly, ahistorical, and does nothing to increase our understanding of the War. Still, a man’s gotta eat.

  • Charles.lovejoy Sep 11, 2009 @ 10:43

    I kinda like “Magnolia Morning ” the best out of all of them. I’m more of a white house with green shutters and a summer/Spring person. And I fully understand it is lacking realistic historical detail . One point about some of these paintings, squared pediment/gable supports were far more common in antebellum homes in the south than Doric columns . A lot of the of the old southern homes with rounded Greek style columns were built during the 1880’s and after the turn of the century . And some of the antebellum homes with rounded Greek columns had the Greek columns added at a later post war date. In Georgia out side of cities single story heart pine homes with large porches were also more common than the larger brick homes with Greek columns in front. I know of very few large brick antebellum homes out side of cities that were built in pre Civil War Georgia. This type of art is historically romantic like most modern day historical art . Most all modern day historical art is romanticized, antebellum southern art is just one small part. An example , Its just like modern railroad steam era art, you find paintings of dashing beautiful clean steam locomotives in romantic setting. The paintings do not depict the grimy, dirty , hot and greasy machines they really were and the nasty job engineers and firemen had operating them. No they portray the romantic image of the steam era. People just like romantic images .

  • Matt McKeon Sep 11, 2009 @ 9:33

    Does Sinatra change the words in the songs?

    Work it Mort, work it!

  • Robert Moore Sep 11, 2009 @ 6:05

    Kevin, This looks like another grand opportunity to fill in the “dialogue box?” Just what were the two central characters in the painting saying to each other????

  • Mike Sep 11, 2009 @ 5:01

    Mort does great work even if all I can afford is his calendars.
    The theme of this picture to me is:
    Oh, I must leave again my Love for our Nation needs me.

  • Corey Meyer Sep 11, 2009 @ 4:52

    Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind could have only hoped for such advertising.

    Or, maybe a secondary title would be…” I can’t believe it’s not butter…southern style”!!

  • Patrick Lewis Sep 11, 2009 @ 4:08

    Might that be a Southern Lady returned to her (brick) Pedestal to push (neo-Confederate) Politics? Wonder what Prof. Scott might have to say about this.

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