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"Before The Ball" - by Mort Kunstler

Signed & Numbered Limited Edition Print & Canvas

General J.E.B. Stuart Culpeper, Virginia, June 4, 1863

Image size: Print-18 1/2" x 29" ...Canvas-21" x 33"

Edition size: Print-750 signed & numbered..... Canvas- 100 signed and numbered

Issue price: Print-SOLD OUT....... Canvas-$575 (when these are sold out they will only be available on our secondary market--call then for current price and availability--800-237-6077)

It was a fleeting distraction from the hardships of war. In early June of 1863, General Robert E. Lee began moving his Army of Northern Virginia from Fredericksburg, Virginia on the campaign that would end at the battle of Gettysburg. His cavalry division, commanded by General J.E.B. Stuart, encamped briefly near Culpeper, Virginia. The young, flamboyant General Stuart ordered his staff to arrange a ball for officers and guests.

The town hall at Culpeper was commandeered as a makeshift ballroom for the occasion, and was appropriately decorated. On the evening of June 4, 1863, Stuartís officers and guests began arriving. Officers wore their dress uniforms, typically adorned with gold braid, brass buttons, and sash and sword belt. Ladies came attired in the finest fashions available in the beleaguered South. Accompanying General Stuart was his wife, Flora, who was visiting her husbandís headquarters. Inside, the pageantry and gaiety of the Old South awaited Stuart and his officers. Days later, they would face a bloody confrontation at the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry engagement of the war, and a month later they would be recoiling from the devastating defeat Leeís army would suffer at Gettysburg. At the moment, however, the Southís fortunes seemed bright and a brief respite from war awaited them inside. The ball was about to begin.

Mort KŁnstlerís Comments:

Selecting the subject for a new painting is always a challenge. There are so many worthwhile topics -- and sometimes I want to further develop a theme that I have already painted. That's the case with Before the Ball, which captures the arrival of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, his wife Flora, and other guests as they arrive for a ball that Stuart hosted at the Culpeper, Virginia town hall in June of 1863. I had painted the ball in Candlelight and Roses, back in 1998, and decided to paint a prequel to the event.

Itís a classic 19th Century American street scene. As I was traveling with my friend, George Orrison, he introduced me to the unique town of Culpeper, Virginia. There I found an interesting courthouse I could use as a backdrop, but unfortunately the building was erected in 1870, too late for any Civil War painting I had in mind. However, after finding period photographs of wartime Culpeper showing the original courthouse in a completely different location, I was able to faithfully reconstruct the scene. Zann Minor of the Museum of Culpeper History was a great help to me, as was local historian Clark B. Hall.

Some of the key figures from Candlelight and Roses are also in Before the Ball. General Stuart is seen helping his wife from a carriage in front of the town hall, and nearby are Stuartís chief aide, Major Heros von Borcke, along with Gen. Wade Hampton, Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and Capt. John Esten Cooke. Before the Ball also allowed me to paint the colorful gowns of the era as well as the various regimental colors from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

The view looks down Davis Street toward the east. The 1860s courthouse is on the left with the arches enclosing an arcade. The brick building next to the courthouse is A.P. Hillís boyhood home, still in existence today. In the center is Culpeper Baptist Church. Itís about eight p.m., and the sunset is lighting the courthouse cupola and the church steeple -- adding warm tones to the festive lights that welcome the guests. To me, itís a colorful reminder of a vanished time and place Ė and an extraordinary generation of Americans.

 

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