Image courtesy of Brooklyn Museum.
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Kehinde Wiley’s triumphant “Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps” (2005), a hallmark of our collection, comes face to face with the nineteenth-century painting on which it is based: Jacques-Louis David’s “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps” (1800–1). The unprecedented pairing of these two magisterial portraits, in the exhibition “Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley,” also marks the first time David’s original version of “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps” is on view in New York.
Seen together, the works by David and Wiley reveal how race, masculinity, power, and representation layer onto portraiture and shape the writing of history. Both paintings cast their protagonists—be it the French general Napoleon Bonaparte or an unnamed man in everyday streetwear—within a heroic tradition of equestrian portraiture. However, each artist defines an icon that reflects the unique political, historical, social, and artistic conditions of their day and age. This project emerges from a collaboration with the Château de Malmaison, France, whose presentation Kehinde Wiley Meets Jacques-Louis David (2019–20) unites both portraits in the historic home of Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte.