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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Beauford's Self-portrait on the Cover of JAMA

In a recent Internet search on Beauford, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my favorite self-portraits of him graced the cover of the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)*.

(1944) Oil on canvas
Art Institute of Chicago
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The following is the abstract of the article about the portrait, written by Thomas B. Cole, M. D., M. P. H.

The skin tone of Beauford Delaney’s (1901-1979) Self-portrait is a blend of white, purple, blue, and taupe, with highlights of avocado green to match the background, and he is posed in a three-quarter turn to the right with a sidelong glance at the mirror (or at the viewer, depending on one’s perspective). His eyes convey different moods: the left eyebrow is raised in an expression of alarm, but the lens of the right eye is a ghostly white. A self-portrait invites speculation about the artist’s state of mind as well as his technique. Sometimes the state of mind of an artist is irrelevant—most of the self-portraits of Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh were probably made to try out new painting methods—but the life story of Beauford Delaney suggests he may be saying something in this portrait about his inner struggles.

The two-page article presents a synopsis of Beauford's life, including an intriguing comment in the second paragraph that speculates on the relationship of this self-portrait to the Bible's Sermon on the Mount.

What I found most interesting is the fact that JAMA started publishing full color images of art on its cover, accompanied by essays in the pages of the journal, in 1964. In an editorial article on his Web site called "JAMA is Redesigned, Art is Demoted," Dr. Jeffrey Levine states that this was

part of an initiative to inform readers about nonclinical aspects of medicine and public health, and emphasize the humanities in medicine.

Levine goes on to lament the fact that JAMA redesigned its cover in 2013, excluding art from that point forward.

*JAMA. 2013;310(7):668-669

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