|ST. LOUIS — The Saint Louis Art Museum recently purchased Charles I, a large-scale painting by Kehinde Wiley and one of the standout works from the recent exhibition of Wiley’s paintings at the museum.
This painting is one of two works in the exhibition Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis that Wiley based on a 1633 portrait of the English king by Daniel Martensz Mytens the Elder.
Wiley creates large-scale oil paintings of contemporary African-American subjects that address the politics of race and power in art. Recalling the grand traditions of European and American portraiture, he depicts his models in poses adapted from historic paintings. Last year, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery unveiled Wiley’s official portrait of former President Barack Obama.
During a 2017 visit to St. Louis, he invited people he encountered in neighborhoods in north St. Louis and Ferguson to pose for the paintings. The style, scale and grandeur of those paintings is epitomized by Wiley’s Charles I. The artist switched the gender of the sitter from male to female to depict Ashley Cooper, a St. Louisan whose sister, Shontay Haynes, is depicted in Wiley’s Portrait of a Florentine Nobleman from the same exhibition. In the Wiley painting, Cooper stands tall with her wrist against her hip, looking down at the viewer in a pose identical to that of Charles I in the original Dutch painting.
The exhibition enjoyed broad critical and public acclaim, said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum.
“Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis was tied closely to our collection and to our city, and it encouraged each of us to examine artistic traditions, current events, and the power of art to unite our community,” Benjamin said. “I’m pleased that generations of St. Louisans will be able to enjoy this vibrant painting.”
Simon Kelly, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, said Wiley’s Charles I is an important addition to the contemporary collection.
“Kehinde Wiley plays a critical role in the contemporary renaissance of portrait painting as a genre,” Kelly said. “By referencing historical depictions of the powerful and giving his modern sitters the same authority, Wiley creates portraits that are richly complex and visually stunning.”
The painting is not currently on view. In the summer, it will be installed in the contemporary galleries, where it will complement other figurative works by African-American artists, including Nick Cave, Kerry James Marshall and Faith Ringgold, said Hannah Klemm, the museum’s assistant curator for modern and contemporary art.
For more information visit www.slam.org.