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
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.
Southgate MT. Le Philosophe. JAMA. 1998;280(3):210. doi:10.1001/jama.280.3.210