12 x 14"
oil on panel
I just finished this new painting. Yikes. It took almost an entire week but I was determined to conquer it (pun intended). It features one of the most famous paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps - one of five versions painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David in the years 1800-1805.
Initially commissioned by the King of Spain, this first version depicts Napoleon, in the spring of 1800, leading his army across the Alps, through the Great St. Bernard Pass to conquer Italy and take the territory seized by the Austrians. Although everyone doubted he could cross the Alps in the first place, especially in the spring - with great audacity, he shocked everyone and did it - truth was, the weather was quite nice and he actually rode on a mule, not the triumphant horse as David depicted. Truly propaganda.
I could keep going with the fascinating history of this portrait and it's five different versions commissioned by various rulers - not to mention the details of Napoleon's uniform and all his accessories - but it's a lot, so read up on it if you're interested.
I will include a bit about the artist David, who painted one of my favorites The Death of Marat. David became a great supporter of the French Revolution and admired Napoleon and when he first met him, he was enamored with Napoleon's face, sketching him when he was able, turning out to be important studies for future commissions - and after Napoleon crossed the St. Bernard Pass, it was requested that David portray him 'calm upon a fiery steed' rather than a mule, and David complied - making him the official court painter of the regime. He went on to paint the extraordinary Coronation of Napoleon, which included the choir of Notre Dame as fill-ins and Pope Pius VII, who blessed David for the masterpiece.
It gets complicated after all the revolutionaries, including David, ordered 'off with their heads' of Louis VXI and VXII. When the new king Louis XVIII took over, he granted David amnesty and the position of his court painter, but David refused and fled to Brussels, continued to paint and teach and became wildly popular and rather wealthy until - one night as he was leaving the theater, he was hit by a carraige and died in 1925. As shown in Les Miserables, you gotta watch out for those carraiges.
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