For many art enthusiasts, analyzing the differences in color choices and techniques that an artist employed over the course of their career offers a window into the artist’s soul.
But to eye doctors, these changes in color and style offer a glimpse into the artist’s eye health.
When comparing the paintings from an artist’s youth to their older years, the changes suggest that eye disease may have affected their vision — and, consequently, their artwork.
Did Eye Conditions Affect the Work of Famous Artists?
Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s crystalline lens and a natural part of the aging process. People with cataracts eventually develop blurred vision and perceive colors as faded or yellow-toned.
Claude Monet struggled with cataracts in his 60’s. Upon noticing that his eyesight was changing, he wrote the following to an eye doctor in Paris:
“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.”
Monet’s early and well-known paintings of water lilies are full of vibrant blue and purple tones, with clear and sharp lines. As his vision deteriorated, his portrayal of nature became more abstract, and increasingly infused with yellow and red tones.
When Monet’s cataracts became very advanced, he could no longer rely on his eyes to select the correct paint colors; he had to read the labels on the paint bottles to know which color was inside. This is because cataracts caused light to scatter within his eye, blurring his vision.
Monet eventually had cataract surgery, which allowed him to see blue and purple again. However, he wrote to his eye doctor complaining that he couldn’t see yellows and reds anymore, which frustrated him. In those days, cataract surgery was fairly new and couldn’t fully perfect vision.
Eventually, he wore tinted lenses to help correct his color vision problem.
Macular degeneration affects the central portion of the retina, called the macula. The main symptoms of macular degeneration are poor central vision, perceiving straight lines as distorted, and blurred vision.
Medical experts believe that Edgar Degas suffered from retinal disease. Furthermore, he frequently complained about his declining eyesight in letters.
When comparing Degas' paintings from his 40s to the ones from his 60s, the lack of shading and less-refined lines are glaring and may have been due to the deterioration of his retina.
Strabismus, or an eye-turn, is a misalignment of the eyes. The most obvious symptom of strabismus is that the two eyes don’t point in the same direction. This condition can also cause double vision, lazy eye and poor depth perception.
Rembrandt, whose eyes appear to be misaligned in his self-portraits, was thought to have strabismus. It is speculated that he needed to close one eye to avoid double vision, allowing him to accurately replicate what he saw onto the canvas. This would have affected how he painted his own eyes.
Don’t Let Eye Disease Change Your View of the World
Whether or not you are an artist, vision is one of your most precious senses and affects how you interact with the world around you.
Eye diseases and conditions that interfere with the way you see can significantly impact your quality of life. That’s why it’s our goal to help our patients maintain crisp and clear vision for a lifetime.
At River Place Vision Center, we diagnose, treat and manage a wide range of eye diseases and conditions using the latest in diagnostic technology. Our experienced and knowledgeable staff will answer all of your questions and make your visit as pleasant as possible.
To schedule your appointment, contact River Place Vision Center today.
Q: #1: How often should I have my eyes checked for eye disease?
- A: Having your eyes tested on an annual basis is recommended for all adults, especially those over age 40. Early detection of ocular disease offers the best chance of effective treatment and vision preservation.
Q: #2: Can vision loss be prevented?
- A: Certain conditions can be treated or managed to prevent vision loss. If you are at risk of any eye conditions, speak with your eye doctor about the best prevention plan for keeping your eyes healthy.
River Place Vision Center serves patients from Austin, Cedar Park, West Lake Hills, and Hudson Bend, all throughout Texas.