Tag Archives: Jacques-Louis David

Miscellany Paris The Man

Finding Napoleon in Abu Dhabi

My last post highlighted the artist Kehinde Wiley’s satiric imitation of Jacques-Louis David’s painting of Napoleon Bonaparte Crosssing the Alps. David painted five versions of this iconic image. It turns out one of these—the one that usually hangs in the Palace of Versailles—is on long-term loan to new Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

 

 

Here’s a link to the full article in The New York Times that explains the museum and its relationship to the Louvre in France.

Abu Dhabi is about 1,500 miles farther southeast than Napoleon Bonaparte himself managed to travel during his Middle Eastern invasion. In 1798, twenty-nine-year-old General Bonaparte set out with 40,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors and 160 scientists and scholars to conquer Egypt. The primary French objective was to block British access to a shorter route to India. Undoubtedly, Bonaparte saw it as an opportunity to follow in Alexander the Great’s footsteps.

The campaign struggled through a series of wins and losses. Ultimately, British, Ottoman and local forces stymied the French on what is now the coast of Lebanon. Napoleon, hearing of political turmoil in France, returned home in August 1799. On November 18, he seized his first political power in a coup d’etat.

Napoleon might not have been so successful politically if the French had known the truth about the Egyptian Campaign’s failures. Napoleon, however, was able to maintain his aura of invincibility.

Now, more than two hundred years later, the iconic painting of Napoleon Bonaparte the great conquer is, as The New York Times writes, “the rock star” of this incredible Middle Eastern museum. One look at that painting and you can appreciate the power of propaganda. 

 

 

Miscellany Paris The Man

Finding Napoleon with Barak Obama

 

Of course that’s not Barak Obama on Napoleon’s horse in the artist Kehinde Wiley’s imitation of Jacques-Louis David’s Bonaparte Crossing the Alps. An anonymous black man has taken General Bonaparte’s place. So why bring up Barak Obama? Well, our (deeply missed) ex-president has chosen Wiley to paint his official portrait for the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery.

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist born in 1977 who grew up in Los Angeles, has a unique way of inserting Black men into classical historical paintings, imbuing them with the power and glory usually reserved for white Western rulers. In his own words, quoted from the Brooklyn Museum’s website, “Painting is about the world that we live in. Black men live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us.” To me, it’s a stunning reminder to broaden my perspective of history and culture.

I’m really curious to see the setting in which Wiley portrays President Obama, who was for eight years “the most powerful man in the world.” Napoleon Bonaparte, a master propagandist, had David paint him in an idealistic pose with the names of the classical heroes Hannibal and Charlemagne carved in the rocks at his feet. To stay in power, Napoleon needed to reinforce his image as the all-conquering hero. President Obama, however, has relinquished his power in our orderly American tradition. Perhaps his portrait, which is to be revealed in 2018, will indicate his future ambitions. I wonder what advice Napoleon would have given him.

Kehinde Wiley’s painting of Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. Here below for your reference is one of the five paintings Jacques-Louis David made for Napoleon of Bonaparte Crosssing the Alps.

 

Miscellany Paris The Man

Finding Napoleon Bonaparte in Madrid – Part 2

Portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte by Ingres

Prado Museum, Madrid, 2016, photo by Margaret Rodenberg

 

As I explained in my last post, in general, the Spanish aren’t fans of Napoleon Bonaparte. In fact, I didn’t find a single portrait of Napoleon in the Prado Museum’s huge collection. The Prado was, however, hosting a travelling exhibition of works by the French painter Ingres (1780-1867). There to my delight I found two.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres studied in Paris under Jacques-Louis David whose paintings have been featured in a number of my posts. In 1803, Ingres was one of five artists commissioned to do full-length portraits of thirty-four-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul. That painting (seen below) was given to the city of Liège where it usually hangs in the Curtius Museum.

 

Napoleon Bonaparte, First Council by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

 

The Emperor on his Imperial Throne was the second Napoleon portrait in the Ingres exhibit. Over the years, this stiff, stylized painting has hung in the Louvre and Les Invalides. It now resides in the Musée de L’Armée. One look at Napoleon’s pale, puffy face explains why the critics (and probably Napoleon himself) hated it. Of course, I was excited to see it in Madrid. Two hundred years later, the man’s still ubiquitous even in hostile territory.

 

The Emperor Napoleon on his Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

 

 

Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Margaret Rodenberg