June is cataracts awareness month! Learn more about how Claude Monet’s artistic career was profoundly impacted by cataracts.
Jun 04, 2018
What are cataracts?
Did you know that cataracts are the cause of blindness in more than 22 million people worldwide? That equates to over 51% of the world’s blindness, making cataracts the leading cause of blindness.
Cataracts are composed of clumps of cloudy proteins on the lens that cloud and eventually block vision. Cataracts are a natural part of aging, and will develop in anyone given enough time. Therefore, they are not preventable, it is possible to both delay their onset, as well as treat them. The development of cataracts is accelerated by sun exposure, obesity, smoking, family history, as well as many other factors, so limiting your exposure to risk factors can delay the growth of cataracts. The symptoms include blurred or double vision, as well as faded appearance of colors. Cataracts are best diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam from a trained professional and, when necessary, can be removed through a procedure in which the lens with the cataract is removed and replaced with a synthetic lens called an IOL (intraocular lens).
Seeing the world through Monet’s eyes
Famous painter, and one of the founding Impressionists, Claude Monet’s artistic career was profoundly impacted by cataracts. Beginning at the age of 65, began to complain about symptoms of cataracts, most notably, a diminishing ability to distinguish colors. As vibrant colors were one of the hallmarks of his paintings, this was especially concerning to the artist. He was officially diagnosed with cataracts by an ophthalmologist at 72, but initially refused to have surgery, because his close friend Mary Cassatt had experienced serious complications following her own cataract surgery. Ten years later, at the age of 82, Monet finally admitted that his vision was bad enough and agreed to have only his right eye operated on. The procedure that he received was called couching, and involved pushing the cloudy lens to the bottom of the eye, never actually removing it.
After his procedure, Monet was fitted with rudimentary glasses, as IOL’s had not been invented yet. However, Monet hated the glasses, and claimed that they distorted shapes and were “quite terrifying”. After finding glasses that better suited him, Monet proceeded to destroy hundreds of his paintings from the previous decade and a half, claiming that they were unfit to be seen because of their poor quality. From the surviving paintings of that timeframe, one can clearly see that the tones had become muddier and darker, as well as less precise and characterized by larger brush strokes in comparison to his earlier works. Despite the negative consequences of his cataracts, Monet made the most of his life after surgery. In fact, one of his most famous Water Lily canvases, which now hangs in the Musée de l’Orangerie was painted two years after his surgery and much more clearly resembles his earlier work.
Marmor, MD Michael F. “Ophthalmology and Art: Simulation of Monet's Cataracts and Degas' Retinal Disease.” Archives of Ophthalmology, American Medical Association, 1 Dec. 2006, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/fullarticle/418859.
“MONET, CLAUDE OSCAR (1840-1926).” Art, Vision, & the Disordered Eye - Monet, Claude, psych.ucalgary.ca/PACE/VA-Lab/AVDE-Website/Monet.html.