Napoléon Bonaparte riding a cow? (part 1 of 3)

At the risk of repeating myself: I love being a freelance illustrator: you never know what job comes your way when the phone rings. It makes it always interesting.

I received a call to make a poster for a show for the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago,  about an upcoming show based on the crucial importance that the horse had throughout history. What they wanted me to do: was to duplicate (a polite way of saying: copy) an existing painting with a twist!

As a rule, I am never to thrilled to paint like someone else! As a painting exercise I have done it in the past, and was often asked to paint in the “style of”. In this case it was a challenge and a fun conceptual twist from the original.

The Field Museum wanted me to paint: Napoleon Crossing the Alps (also known as Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass or Bonaparte Crossing the Alps), by french painter: Jacques-Louis David (30 August 1748 – 29 December 1825).


Painted between 1801 and 1805, there are 5 versions that Jacque-Louis David painted in the neoclassical style.

After the Field Museum acquired the proper rights, they wanted me to replace the horse for a cow! We also had to decide: which of the five versions we should go for!


As if that was not enough: we had to make the final image fit for billboards, posters, bus shelters, etc. That’s why the sketches have “more meat” on the edges to fit all the information for the show.


The first sketch was deemed too muscular (the cow), so I toned down the muscles. As a painting: there was so many challenges to tackle: first of course: it had to look like the original painting like David, and because I had seen one of the versions in person: I knew how I had to paint it but also knew how challenging to paint it.



So by just blocking colours and rendering up to a point: I knew I had to come back at the end to add all the brush strokes, later on in the process; to match the real painting.



Even the fact that I had a reference of the actual painting to work from: there was a lot of information that I had to decipher!




Well on it’s way, trying to match brush strokes as much as I can:  the base is almost there: the difficult part was the size of the artwork: because it was going to be seen so closely by the public: bus shelters, etc: it made the process tricky and I was glad the Mac computer had plenty of RAM and Corel Painter was stable!



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