Mort Künstler’s Civil War: The North and Mort Künstler’s Civil War: The South, by Mort Künstler, Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1997, $12.95.

When it comes to artists who have made the Civil War their primary subject matter, few, if any, have been more popular and successful than Mort Künstler–or have touched the general public’s consciousness more deeply. Since he first burst onto the scene of the fiercely competitive Civil War limited-edition print market in 1988 with High Water Mark, Mort Künstler’s success has been nothing short of phenomenal. With an annual average of six to eight prints, practically every Künstler release is a guaranteed sellout, and those collectors not able to get the latest release at issue price happily pay secondary market prices in order to hang a Künstler on their walls.

What is it that makes one man’s work so popular and sought after? Quite simply, Künstler has discovered a niche that others have tried to tap into, but with far less success than he. Künstler paints scenes that depict the human experience and emotions. It is no secret that many of his most loyal fans are women who might hesitate to hang a scene of death and destruction on their living room walls, but who see a painting such as Until We Meet Again or Southern Stars and are touched and moved. Künstler’s artwork makes viewers feel like they are part of the painting, experiencing the same emotions as the individuals being depicted.

Now Mort Künstler, in association with Rutledge Hill Press, brings the public a two-volume collection of his works, including some never-before-published pieces. Subtitled, simply enough, The North and The South, the two volumes tell the story of the war through Künstler’s eyes and paintbrush via 47 different paintings. The accompanying text, written by the artist, takes readers on a tour of the life of a Mort Künstler original, from conception to finished product. In fact, the different sketches that are included, showing the working stages of the paintings, may be the true stars of these books.

If there is a drawback, it is that the physical size of the book may not allow the full impact of some of the paintings to show through. The books are small, measuring 5 inches by 6 1/4 inches.

Still, this should not deter someone from enjoying these two volumes. The books make perfect stocking stuffers for either the young buff in the family looking for a good introduction to the war or excellent gifts for the veteran battlefield stomper who appreciates fine artwork.

B. Keith Toney