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Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps

Kehinde Wiley

Contemporary Art

On View: Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion, 1st Floor
 Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps is emblematic of Kehinde Wiley’s long-standing and complicated engagement with the grand tradition of European portrait painting, an engagement encapsulated by the artist’s statement that he is simultaneously “drawn toward that flame and wanting to blow it out.” Wiley’s work not only reflects his in-depth understanding of portraiture’s ability to convey the power of the sitter, but also highlights the fact that brown and Black people have been written out of mainstream history. Wiley redresses this omission by offering an alternative narrative.

This painting takes as its point of departure Jacques-Louis David’s well-known portrait Bonaparte Crossing the Alps (1800–1), which commemorated the renowned French general Napoleon Bonaparte. In keeping with his practice, Wiley preserves the pose and composition in David’s work, while swapping the heroic figure of Napoleon for a contemporary Black man wearing camouflage fatigues and Timberland boots. Wiley also transforms the blue sky in David’s painting into a red ground embellished with gold floral motifs. Jewel-like sperm cells scattered across the surface refer to sexuality and a type of hypermasculinity that Wiley associates with aggression, whether military or otherwise. On the rocky outcropping in the foreground, inscribed with names of great historical military commanders, is the addition of “WILLIAMS,” the model’s last name. Aside from his name, little else is known about the man sitting in the saddle, in contrast to the general whose role he assumes in the painting.
MEDIUM Oil on canvas
DATES 2005
DIMENSIONS 108 x 108 in. (274.3 x 274.3 cm) frame: 130 1/2 x 121 x 12 in. (331.5 x 307.3 x 30.5 cm) weight: 220 lb. (99.79kg)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion, 1st Floor
ACCESSION NUMBER 2015.53
CREDIT LINE Partial gift of Suzi and Andrew Booke Cohen in memory of Ilene R. Booke and in honor of Arnold L. Lehman, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, and William K. Jacobs, Jr. Fund
RIGHTS STATEMENT © Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
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CAPTION Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977). Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps, 2005. Oil on canvas, 108 x 108 in. (274.3 x 274.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Partial gift of Suzi and Andrew Booke Cohen in memory of Ilene R. Booke and in honor of Arnold L. Lehman, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, and William K. Jacobs, Jr. Fund , 2015.53. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2015.53_framed_PS2.jpg)
IMAGE overall, framed, 2015.53_framed_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2010
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