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The Cover
July 15, 1998

Le Philosophe

JAMA. 1998;280(3):210. doi:10.1001/jama.280.3.210

The oldest of the Duchamp artist-brothers, Jacques Villon (née Gaston Duchamp) (1875-1963) is probably the least well-known of the three. Yet it is he who has been the most enduring, perhaps even the greatest. (Raymond, a sculptor, had his career cut short when he was killed in 1918 during World War I; Marcel cut his own career short, also in 1918, when he virtually ceased painting to devote his life to chess [JAMA cover, May 6, 1998].)

Because he gave at least as much attention to the theory behind the art as to the making of the work itself, Villon has often been called "the painter's painter." It was he who studied the science behind the color and the mathematics of the line. It was he who studied Leonardo's writings because Leonardo was not only an artist but a scientist as well. And it was Villon who named his group's first exhibition Salon de la Section d'Or in homage to the ancient Greeks. It is not surprising, then, to read in Villon's notes that whereas he had once believed that painting was merely a reaction to an image either before the painter's eyes or in his mind, he now, after a lifetime of painting, believed that painting belonged more properly to the domain of philosophy. "We paint to discover ourselves, to explain our deepest nature." (Reflections on painting. In: Feininger L. Jacques Villon . Boston, Mass: Institute of Contemporary Art; c 1949. Exhibition catalog.) Whether Le Philosophe (cover) relates to this concept or is simply an interesting coincidence is impossible to know, and probably unimportant as well. The painting is interesting in its own right.

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