The Death Of James Dean1957 by John Minton

The final work of painter and illustrator John Minton was still incomplete when he committed suicide in January 1957. The unfinished painting depicts a gravely injured man surrounded by distraught onlookers. On the day before Minton’s death, the painter Ruskin Spear visited him at his studio and was told that he identified the dying figure with Hollywood actor James Dean, who had died two years previously in a car accident at the age of just 24.

Spear believed that James Dean represented the suffering of the younger generation, which Minton strongly related to. However, the true identity of the dying figure is debatable. It has been suggested that a more direct inspiration for the painting was a similar car accident which Minton witnessed in Barcelona and later came to identify with Dean. Minton’s suicide was provoked by his depression and a loss of confidence after the rise of abstract art caused the popularity of his work to decline. Although the painting is clearly unfinished, there are indications that Minton didn’t intend to do any further work on it, telling a friend that he was worried about turning it “into another Johnny Minton painting.” (

By the early 1950s Minton's reputation was in decline. His commitment to figure composition seemed out-dated in the face of American Abstract Expressionism. 'The Death of James Dean' was his last ambitious picture. He was found dead on 22 January 1957. The coroner's verdict was suicide. (
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Media: oil on canvas

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