Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley

Or how race, masculinity, power, and representation layer onto portraiture and shape the writing of history

Kehinde Wiley ‘s triumphant Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), a hallmark of the Brooklyn museum’s collection, comes face to face with the nineteenth-century painting on which it is based: Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801). 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 Napoleon Crossing the Alps is on view in New York.

Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley
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. © Kehinde Wiley. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

Seen together, the works by Jacques-Louis David and Kehinde 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.

Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley
Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748–1825). Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Bonaparte franchissant le GrandSaint-Bernard), 1801. Oil on canvas, 102 1/3 x 87 in. (261 x 221 cm). Collection of Château de Malmaison. (Photo: Courtesy RMN-GP)

Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison and Bois-Préau. The Brooklyn presentation is curated by Lisa Small, Senior Curator, European Art, and Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley
January 24–May 10, 2020
Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, New York 11238-6052
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, 4th Floor
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