Chaim Koppelman  
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Napoleon / Thoughts & Observations / Couples / Criticism / Self & Relation

“Napoleon felt deeply that all men had to do with each other and that…the injustices of the past should be changed into something which called forth the abilities of all people. On the one hand we see in him a tremendous desire for democracy and on the other a tremendous desire for power. The confusions point to the confusions in us. We want to be welcomed by the masses, yet we want to nourish our selfish souls.”
—Eli Siegel, "Napoleon Bonaparte: or Orderly Energy," 1951
"Koppelman became an intense interpreter of the Emperor's American dream, blending in a masterly way the figure of Napoleon and the crowds on Coney Island (cat.15) and on the Boardwalk at Brighton Beach (cat. 16). The artist, in the refined intellectual workings of the Siegel Theory of Opposites, focuses on a unique aspect of the Emperor's personality: a democratic vision of the individual and of history, related somehow to authoritarian management of imperial power."
—Giulia Gorgone, Director, Museo Napoleonico & Curator
Click images to enlarge

Meeting, ca. 2000
pastel, 24 x 17 in.

"The general confronts his opposite, a pale mirage that illuminates his face. Napoleon is shown as a figure divided: into dark and light, worldly and otherworldly, and perhaps evil and good. The two sides are engaged but not united. The audacious plume of the helmet proclaiming the worldly figure’s assertiveness is missing from his other half. Instead the ghostly figure reflects back a kind of distilled essence, and the dark figure seems humbled in a moment of existential contemplation.

"Napoleon, Koppelman seems to suggest, is us."

—John B. Ravenal, Sydney & Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Virginia  Museum of Fine Arts.

Napoleon Entering Hoboken
1971, charcoal, 16 x 22 in.
Napoleon Nude
ca. 1990, pastel, 24 x 20 in.

Napoleon, Angel, and Printmaker
1965, charcoal, 22½ x 30½ in.

Napoleon Entering New York
ca. 1957, aquatint, 14¾ x 17¾ in.

“The title that comes to mind is “To Be Real Is More Important Than to Be Emperor.” An important thing is this: Is there here some dealing with the individual and democracy—meaning that there is a certain kind of democracy “Allness” represented by the boy, and this is in play: a saying that one’s reality is more important than the pushing sense of one’s individuality.”

— Eli Siegel, "Aesthetic Realism Art Inquiry,"
February 17, 1960                                         

Napoleon Entering Brighton Beach (Coney Island) / Retreat from Moscow
1981, pastel, 27 x 40 in.

“Coney Island is a place of fun and gaiety. Moscow is serious, the place strived for but unobtainable, Moses’ Promised Land, beyond the river we cannot cross. We work and make our efforts but may not be able to get to Moscow, the Promised Land; we can, however, get to Coney Island…For Napoleon to be leading his army in retreat down the boardwalk of Coney Island is a bit heroic, a bit tragic, a bit funny, a bit absurd, but also glorious. Is this not a wonderful metaphor of our lining this life?”

—Richard Sloat, artist and past President, Society of
   American Graphic Artists; Academician, National Academy

Napoleon Entering Brighton Beach (Coney Island) / Retreat from Moscow
1981, archival print, 27 x 40 in.

Napoleons on Alligators
1963, etching , 4½ x 5½ in.

“Napoleons and Alligators” of (1963) may be my favorite. The high and mighty are comfortably riding the lowest and most primitive of beings, and the alligators also feel they’re doing useful work—And my series continues because the opposites continue always.”

—"Artists Talk on Art," School of Visual Arts,
   January 21, 2005                                          

Retired Napoleons
1966, etching and collage, 12½ x 14½ in.
“My print, Retired Napoleons, is replete with opposites. The idea of Napoleon as retired is one of opposites…the high made low, the active become quiet. Then I wanted to have a play between the flat giving an illusion of depth, and actual three dimensions. The little window opening up on the heads is an actual window. The heads are flat, but give an appearance of roundness and depth. Through the repletion of heads I tried to give a sense of the passing of time and fading. The heads become ever so slightly more grey as they descend. I also wanted to mingle humor and seriousness in this print, mystery and a smile.”

—CK, Prize-Winning Graphics, book 7, 1967

Napoleon Entering Coney Island
1957, etching, 10½ x 14 in.

“The Emperor, a tall, flat figure in profile, rises prominently on the right, assertively towering over the other figures. Yet he is part of that long diagonal line of people going towards, of all things, the amusement park in the distance! At Napoleon’s eye level are the dark, graceful curves of the roller coaster. The shape of his hat and cape echo those curving shapes and join him to that famous Coney Island ‘Cyclone’ ride.”

—Marcia Rackow, Artist, Lecturer, Aesthetic
    Realism Consultant, Terrain Gallery Coordinator

Napoleon Watching Hi Work II
9/19/79, ink and wash, 12 x 9 in.

Napoleon Entering Coney Island
1962, etching (first state),
2½ x 3½ in.
“Here is “Napoleon Entering Coney Island.” He is on his horse separate from the crowd and he and the crowd both seem to be looking each other over. I had loved going to the Coney Island beach and being one of a crowd on a hot summer day. But I also felt apart, somewhat separate and superior to the rest of humanity. I now see I was related in these feelings to everyone else on that beach. I saw another possibility. In the final state Napoleon has joined the crowed!—“We have modesty triumphant over celebrity.”

—"Artists Talk on Art," School of Visual Arts,
   January 21, 2005

Napoleon Entering Coney Island
1962, etching (second state),
2½ x 3½ in.

Napoleon as an Indian
n.d., gouache, 12 x 17 in.

Napoleon and Me
n.d., lithograph , 16 x 12 in.

In this lithograph, Napoleon is standing on the windowsill, helping me to relate inside the studio to the outside world.

—"Artists Talk on Art," School of Visual Arts,
January 21, 2005

Napoleon Come / Memories Come
1963, etching, 2½ x 5½ in.


Napoleon at Elba
1965, etching, 14½ x 17½ in.

Animals and Napoleons/ Napoleons and Friends
ca. 1983, etching with watercolor,
6 x 14½ in.
“What do we see in Koppelman’s whimsical and hand-colored print Animals and Napoleons? Not one Emperor, but many. I counted ten Napoleons cavorting on the green grass with the playfully drawn animals. An orange giraffe, a yellows camel, a pink kangaroo are among the many creatures in this zoological display. This is a side of Napoleon one doesn’t often see—that relation of dignity and playfulness.”

—Marcia Rackow, Artist, Lecturer, Aesthetic
   Realism Consultant, Terrain Gallery Coordinator

Napoleon’s Paper Hat on Me
n.d., watercolor, 26 x 20 in.

Napoleon Alone
n.d., acrylic & oil pastel on canvas,
14 x 10 in.

Napoleon and the Little Dancer
n.d., watercolor, 6 x 9 in.

“Napoleon Entering New York,” an exhibition of nearly 90 drawings, prints, pastels and watercolors
by Chaim Koppelman, was on view May 13, 2011-January 6, 2012, in the Museo Napoleonico in Rome.

Images from the exhibition.

An illustrated catalog in English and Italian accompanied the exhibition.