As an artist, and as someone who is intrigued by the impressionist style, I was intrigued when I learned that Claude Monet’s artistic style was influenced by his deteriorating vision. I paint in a style reminiscent of the German expressionist movement, and I’ve noticed that my own style changes– often for the better– when I deliberately forgo wearing glasses. Claude Monet’s own vision problems influenced not only his work, but also art history at large.
Claude Monet began developing cataracts in his early sixties. By age 65, he reported noticeable changes in his ability to perceive colors. He said that they were less intense, and “muddier”. At around this time, his paintings began to depict shifts in whites, greens and blues. Yellow and purple tones were both muddied to create a brownish shade. This drastically affected his artistic style; the paintings became far more abstract and his brushstrokes became much wider.
Within several years, Claude Monet’s cataracts caused a dramatic shift in his ability to correctly perceive color. All of his paintings took on a red-yellow undertone instead of his usual blue-green. He said that red looked like an odd, murky, dull pink, and that other colors took on a dramatic yellowish hue. His paintings reflect this dramatic change. While many interpreted this as artistic expression, it was actually the result of failing vision due to Claude Monet’s cataracts.
Claude Monet’s cataracts and declining vision also contributed to depression, which influenced te style of his paintings. Desperate to return to his beloved profession and to the beautiful visual world, Money tried to get treatment. At first, he used eyedrops to dilate his pupils, but this only worked for a short period of time. Finally, after 20 years of suffering from cataracts, Claude Monet had an operation on his right eye at age 82.
Claude Monet was unhappy with his operation and refused to have his left eye operated on. By this time, the left eye could no longer perceive blues and violets, and everything it could see had a yellow discoloration. It could be that he had become so accustomed to the discoloration that he could not bear to have normal eyesight again.
In fact, when Monet’s vision was corrected to near-perfection using specialized lenses, he complained that the colors and shapes were overwhelmingly intense and “quite terrifying.” He also became very upset when he was able to see that he had been painting with incorrect colors for many years; he actually destroyed many of his best paintings. When he finally retired from painting altogether at the old age of 82, he stated, “I was forced to recognize that I was spoiling them [the paintings], that I was no longer capable of doing anything good… It’s hard but that’s the way it is: a sad end despite my good health!”
But, despite Monet’s own distress, his visual problems contributed tremendously to advancements in contemporary art. Without the unusual use of color inspired by straining eyes, we might never have seen the brave and emotional use of color that now dominates art throughout the world. Claude Monet’s cataracts were unfortunate, but ultimately beneficial to his own art and to the history of art itself.
Art, Vision and the Disordered Eye