Many famous artists, including Rembrandt, Monet and Degas, struggled with vision problems.
Analyzing the differences in color selections and techniques used by artists over the course of their careers provides a window into the artist’s soul.
However, to an eye doctor, these changes in color and style are signs that the artists may have had eye health issues.
When comparing paintings from an artist’s youth to those from their later years, the differences indicate that eye disease may have impacted their vision, and thus their artwork.
How did eye conditions affect famous artists?
Beginning in his 60s, Claude Monet developed cataracts.
Cataracts are the clouding of the clear lens of the eye, and are a natural part of the aging process. Because of the cloudy lens, people with cataracts gradually develop have impaired vision and perceive colors as dull or yellow-toned.
When Monet became aware that his eyesight was deteriorating, he wrote to a Parisian eye doctor:
“I no longer perceived colors with the same intensity… I no longer painted light with the same accuracy. Reds appeared muddy to me, pinks insipid, and the intermediate and lower tones escaped me.”
Water Lilies, Monet’s best-known series of paintings, appear to have been impacted by his cataracts, as the images in these works have been described as ‘blurry’ and the colors muted.
When Monet’s cataracts progressed to the point where he couldn’t use his vision to choose paint colors, he had to read the labels on the paint bottles to figure out which color was inside.
Monet later underwent cataract surgery, which restored his ability to see more clearly. In fact, he even went back to the Water Lilies paintings and repainted parts to give them more clarity.
While his vision was much improved, he expressed his dissatisfaction with his inability to perceive yellows and reds. Since cataract surgery was still relatively new at the time, it couldn’t completely correct his vision.
To help correct his color vision, Monet eventually wore tinted lenses.
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Medical experts believe that Edgar Degas suffered from retinal disease, perhaps even macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina. Macular degeneration is characterized by blurred vision, poor central vision, and the perception that straight lines are distorted.
Although he was able to carry out daily tasks normally, he frequently complained about his declining eyesight.
When comparing the paintings Degas did in his 40s to those he created in his 60s, the lack of shade and less-refined lines stand out. This might have been related to the deterioration of his retina.
Many art historians believe that Paul Cezanne was nearsighted, also known as myopia His close-up paintings were sharp and clear, while his landscape works were fuzzy.
Nearsightedness, or myopia, which occurs when the eyeball is elongated, causes distant objects to appear blurry.
Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that affects the retina, was also a possible eye condition Cezanne suffered from.
Rembrandt was thought to have strabismus, or an eye turn, as his eyes are often painted as misaligned in his self-portraits.
An eye-turn, also known as strabismus, is a misalignment of the eyes. Having eyes that appear to point in different opposite directions is the most visible symptom of strabismus, but the disorder can also produce blurred vision and poor depth perception.
It’s thought that Rembrandt had to close one eye in order to reproduce what he saw onto the canvas, which influenced how he painted his own eyes.
See your eye doctor
Don’t let your eye health impact your view of the world.
Vision is one of your most valuable senses, whether or not you are an artist.
Eye diseases and conditions that affect your vision can have a negative impact on your quality of life. That’s why it’s important to protect your vision and to identify visual problems early enough to prevent or minimize vision loss.
All people, especially those over the age of 40, should have a full eye exam once a year. Your eye doctor may recommend more frequent visits for monitoring, depending on your vision and eye health.
LEARN MORE: Guide to Eye Conditions
The best way to preserve your vision is early detection of ocular disease.
If you have blurry vision, schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you who can treat and manage a wide range of eye conditions … then again – you might just need a pair of eyeglasses.
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