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Kehinde Wiley: Two Napoleons in Brooklyn, One in Timberlands

By Jason Farago for New York Times

A French masterpiece has come to New York for the first time ever, and has been greeted with a curious silence.

It’s Jacques-Louis David’s “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps,” from 1801, and you know it even if you’ve never seen it in person, so enduring is its propaganda. To commemorate Napoleon’s victory over Austria at the Battle of Marengo, David painted him charging up a mountain on a piebald steed, right arm pointing skyward, trademark bicorne on his head, cool and cocksure as his horse bucks its front heels. In copies the artist and his studio made afterward Napoleon wears a red cape, but here, in the original, he’s wrapped in a mantle of gold, starchy and solid in the Alpine air.

It’s actually here! Usually, to see “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps,” you have to trek to the suburbs of Paris, where it hangs in the Château de Malmaison, the home of Empress Joséphine. Until May, you’ll find it in a little-trafficked gallery on the fourth floor of the Brooklyn Museum — and it is not alone.