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I Tried and Tried and Tried

I Tried and Tried and Tried

David Ross Harper
I Tried and Tried and Tried, 2013
Giclée print with embroidery
68 x 58 inches

Ruane Center for the Humanities, Second Floor

About the Work

David R. Harper appropriates and alters historical works of art to offer insight on contemporary issues. Here, Harper references and replicates Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. David, a famous and controversial artist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, created some of the most powerful political images in modern history. Titled Bonaparte Crossing the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass, David’s painting depicts Napoleon as First Consul leading the French army across the Alps into Italy. However, David took liberties with the facts: Napoleon made the journey on a mule, not the thoroughbred painted by the artist. This portrayal came to symbolize the swagger of France’s emerging hero, following the footsteps of other celebrated leaders, their names inscribed in the rocky earth in the painting’s foreground. Napoleon, so taken with the artwork, immediately commissioned more versions. David eventually painted four total copies, along with a slew of other propaganda artworks, gaining a reputation for over-aggrandizing the First Consul and being the court’s lackey.


The artworks by Harper on view here show two different versions of David’s portrait. Alluding to the fiction of the horses, Harper covers their bodies with embroidery. Though hand-stitched, these alterations appear almost digital, as if the animal was cropped out of the picture with the click of a mouse. In combination with David’s original visual exaggerations, Harper’s alterations show that pictures—from the past to today—are only as reliable as their makers.