Breaking News
September 23, 2018 - Novel therapeutic strategy for blood vessel related disorders, such as cancer and retinopathy
September 23, 2018 - New naturally occurring antibiotic found effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis
September 23, 2018 - First-in-human phase 0 study shows clinically-relevant activity of new drug in glioblastoma
September 23, 2018 - Removing tobacco product display from shops reduced number of children buying cigarettes
September 23, 2018 - Random fraction of specialized immune cells leads the charge in battling invaders
September 23, 2018 - Few minutes of sprinting exercise may be as effective as longer exercise sessions
September 23, 2018 - Researchers use neutrons to make first direct observations of water in lipid bilayers
September 23, 2018 - Researchers demonstrate pre-clinical success for universal flu vaccine in new paper
September 23, 2018 - Study reveals surprising gaps in some HIV medical providers’ knowledge of ACA
September 23, 2018 - Oxehealth secures European medical device accreditation for vital signs measurement software
September 23, 2018 - HTN Tx Intensification Common Upon Discharge in U.S. Vets
September 23, 2018 - Fibre can strengthen the intestinal barrier
September 23, 2018 - New platform examines infectious pathogens that may spread from animals to humans
September 23, 2018 - Demographers create detailed color map of population aging in Europe
September 23, 2018 - New type of fatty acid can slow down overreactive immune system
September 23, 2018 - Innovative procedure could provide breakthrough in treating early-stage lung cancer
September 23, 2018 - Research finds drop in number of measles cases in the EU/EEA since March 2018
September 23, 2018 - Researchers acquire new insights into DNA polymerases
September 23, 2018 - Alzheimer’s diagnosis might become simpler with new brain imaging method
September 23, 2018 - Reports Warn of Growing Opioid Crisis Among Seniors
September 23, 2018 - Researchers unravel why people with HIV suffer from more neurologic diseases
September 23, 2018 - Human brain structured to make best possible decision with limited resources
September 23, 2018 - KHN’s ‘What the Health?’ Health on the hill
September 23, 2018 - Bad air and inadequate data prove an unhealthy mix
September 23, 2018 - Regular bedtime and wake time important for heart, metabolic health even among adults
September 23, 2018 - HIV and a tale of a few cities
September 23, 2018 - NIH launches clinical trial to test infusions of combination antibodies in people with HIV
September 23, 2018 - Researchers develop new system to detect consumption of synthetic cannabinoids
September 23, 2018 - Vax-Hub to influenze radical change in development and manufacturing of vaccines
September 23, 2018 - People who have slept lesser than seven hours have higher risks of car crashes
September 23, 2018 - an ancient art may work best to prevent falls in old age
September 23, 2018 - Consumption of foods with lower nutritional quality related to increased cancer risk
September 23, 2018 - Patient Health Information Often Shared Electronically
September 23, 2018 - Can machine learning bring more humanity to health care?
September 23, 2018 - Body organs undergo structural changes in response to diet
September 23, 2018 - Genetic polymorphisms linked with muscle injury and stiffness
September 23, 2018 - As states try to rein in drug spending, feds slap down one bold Medicaid move
September 22, 2018 - Why Eczema Is Tougher to Treat for Black Patients
September 22, 2018 - Team reveals that human genome could contain up to 20 percent fewer genes
September 22, 2018 - USC research uncovers previously unknown genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease
September 22, 2018 - Novel method achieves accurate and precise temperature estimation in fat-containing tissues
September 22, 2018 - BSI accredits Oxehealth’s vital signs measurement software as Class IIa medical device
September 22, 2018 - Evolution of psychiatric disorders and human personality traits
September 22, 2018 - Obesity in early puberty doubles asthma risk for boy’s future offspring
September 22, 2018 - World’s most advanced real-time patient monitoring platform receives key US patent
September 22, 2018 - Study explores connection between sexuality and cognitive status in older adults
September 22, 2018 - LSTM partners with TB Alliance to develop novel TB drug regimens
September 22, 2018 - Annual wellness visits improve delivery of preventive services in elderly population
September 22, 2018 - CHMP provides positive opinion to Cabometyx for previously-treated patients with hepatocellular carcinoma
September 22, 2018 - Hispanic communities with high proportions of Hispanics face more cardiovascular-related death
September 22, 2018 - Vici syndrome – Genetics Home Reference
September 22, 2018 - Single-dose drug can shorten flu symptoms by about a day, studies suggest
September 22, 2018 - AMSBIO launches circulating tumor DNA Reference Standards
September 22, 2018 - Sandalwood mimicking odorant could stimulate hair growth in humans
September 22, 2018 - Overlooked immune cells could play a key role in cancer immunotherapy, claims new study
September 22, 2018 - Study reveals prevalence of diagnosed type 1 and type 2 diabetes among American adults
September 22, 2018 - Researchers develop fast detection strategy to know type of virus acquired by patients
September 22, 2018 - Global Prevalence of Insufficient Activity 27.5 Percent
September 22, 2018 - Strategies to protect bone health in hematologic stem cell transplant recipients
September 22, 2018 - Brigham Genomic Medicine program unravels 30 medical mysteries
September 22, 2018 - New system harnesses power of bubbles to destroy dangerous biofilms
September 22, 2018 - Inflammation plays crucial role in preventing heart attacks and strokes, study reveals
September 22, 2018 - Calorie dense, nutrient deficient meals common across the world
September 22, 2018 - Researchers develop technology to study behavior of implants without animal testing
September 22, 2018 - First gut bacteria in newborns may have lasting effect on ability to ward off chronic diseases
September 22, 2018 - Detection of BFD virus in parrots in 8 new countries raises concerns for threatened species
September 22, 2018 - Insulin treatment shows great potential against chronic bowel inflammation
September 22, 2018 - ‘Liking Gap’ Might Stand in Way of New Friendships
September 22, 2018 - Simple factors that can avoid harmful side effects in type 2 diabetes
September 22, 2018 - ALSAM Foundation invests additional $2 million for drug discovery and development projects
September 22, 2018 - Study findings may advance discussion of how to effectively curb human-wildlife conflict
September 22, 2018 - Dopamine neurons may involve in conditions ranging from Parkinson’s disease to schizophrenia
September 22, 2018 - Protein C and Protein S Tests: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information
September 22, 2018 - Obesity and diabetes—two reasons why we should be worried about the plastics that surround us
September 22, 2018 - Concern over fussy eating prompts parents to use non-responsive feeding practices
September 22, 2018 - Novel mathematical approach uncovers existence of unsuspected biological cycles
September 22, 2018 - Cancer Research UK invests £14 million to transform London into cancer biotherapeutics hub
September 22, 2018 - Scientists predict how well the body will fight lung cancer by analyzing immune cell shapes
September 22, 2018 - New outbreak of rare eye disease identified in contact lens wearers
September 22, 2018 - Iterum Initiates SURE 2 and SURE 3 Phase 3 Clinical Trials of IV and Oral Sulopenem in Complicated Urinary Tract and Complicated Intra-abdominal Infections
How eye disorders may have influenced the work of famous painters

How eye disorders may have influenced the work of famous painters

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print
It’s been argued the Impressionists were short sighted. The Boulevard Montmartre at Night. Credit: Camille Pissarro/Wikimedia Commons

Vision is an important tool when creating a painted artwork. Vision is used to survey a scene, guide the artist’s movements over the canvas and provide feedback on the colour and form of the work. However, it’s possible for disease and disorders to alter an artist’s visual perception.

There is a long history of scientists and clinicians arguing particular artists were affected by vision disorders, based on signs in their works. Some argued the leaders of the Impressionist movement were short-sighted, for instance, and that their blurry distance vision when not using spectacles may explain their broad, impetuous style.

Supporting evidence of such disorders and their influence on artworks is often speculative, and hampered by a lack of clinical records to support the diagnosis. A particular challenge to verifying these speculations is that artists are, of course, free to represent the world in whatever fashion they like.

So, is a particular style the result of impoverished vision, or rather a conscious artistic choice made by the artist? Here are three artists who it has been claimed suffered vision impairments.

El Greco

Architect, painter and sculptor of the Spanish Renaissance, El Greco (1541-1614) is known for vertically elongating certain figures in his paintings. In 1913, ophthalmologist Germán Beritens argued this elongation was due to astigmatism.

Astigmatism occurs when the cornea is shaped like a watermelon, instead of being spherical. Credit: shutterstock.com

Astigmatism typically results when the cornea – the front surface of the eye and the principal light-focusing element – is not spherical, but shaped more like a watermelon.

This means the light bends in different amounts, depending on the direction in which it’s passing through the eye. Lines and contours in an image that are of a particular orientation will be less in focus than others.

Beritens would demonstrate his astigmatism theory to house guests using a special lens that produced El Greco-like vertical elongations.

But there are several problems with Beriten’s theory. A common objection is that any vertical stretching should have affected El Greco’s view of both the subject being painted and the canvas being painted on. This would mean the astigmatism effects should largely cancel out. Possibly more problematic is that uncorrected astigmatism mainly causes blurry vision, rather than a change in image size.

Plus, other evidence suggests El Greco’s use of vertical elongation was a deliberate artistic choice. For example, in his 1610 painting, St Jerome as Scholar (above), the horizontally oriented hand of the saint is also elongated, just like the figure. If El Greco’s elongated figures were due to a simple vertical stretching in his visual perception, we would expect the hand to look comparatively stubby.

This version of Monet’s bridge over a pond of water lillies was painted in 1899, ten years before his cataracts diagnosis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Claude Monet

Elsewhere, the influence of eye anomalies in artworks is more compelling. Cataracts are a progressive cloudiness of the lens inside the eye, producing blurred and dulled vision that can’t be corrected with spectacles.

Cataracts are often brown, which filter the light passing through them, impairing colour discrimination. In severe cases, blue light is almost completely blocked.

Claude Monet was diagnosed with cataracts in 1912, and recommended to undergo surgery. He refused. Over the subsequent decade, his ability to see critical detail reduced, as is documented in his medical records.

Importantly, his colour vision also suffered. In 1914, he noted how reds appeared dull and muddy, and by 1918 he was reduced to selecting colours from the label on the paint tube.

The visual impact of his cataracts is demonstrated in two paintings of the same scene: the Japanese footbridge over his garden’s lily pond. The first, painted ten years prior to his cataract diagnosis, is full of detail and subtle use of colour.

The Japanese Footbridge was painted in 1922, a year before Monet’s cataract surgery. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In contrast, the second – painted the year prior to his eventually relenting to surgery – shows colours to be dark and murky, with a near absence of blue, and a dramatic reduction in the level of painted detail.

There is good evidence such changes were not a conscious artistic choice. In a 1922 letter to author Marc Elder, Monet confided he recognised his visual impairment was causing him to spoil paintings, and that his blindness was forcing him to abandon work despite his otherwise good health.

One of Monet’s fears was that surgery would alter his colour perception, and indeed after surgery he complained of the world appearing too yellow or sometimes too blue. It was two years before he felt his colour vision had returned to normal.

Experimental work has confirmed colour perception is measurably altered for months after cataract surgery, as the eye and brain adapt to the increased blue light previously blocked by the cataract.

Clifton Pugh

In addition to eye disease, colour vision can be altered by inherited deficiencies. Around 8% of men and 0.5% of women are born with abnormal colour vision – sometimes erroneously called “colour blindness”.

It seems Pugh’s colour vision impairment didn’t noticeably influence the colours used in his artworks. Credit: Gough Whitlam, 1972/Wikimedia Commons.

In one of its most common severe forms, people see colours purely in terms of various levels of blue and yellow. They can’t distinguish colours that vary only in their redness or greenness, and so have trouble distinguishing ripe from unripe fruit, for example.

It has been argued no major artist is known to have abnormal colour vision. But subsequent research argues against this.

Australian artist Clifton Pugh can readily lay claim to the title of “major artist”: he was three-times winner of the Archibald Prize for Portraiture, is highly represented in national galleries, and even won a bronze medal for painting at the Olympics (back when such things were possible).

His abnormal colour vision is well documented in biographical information. Owing to the inherited nature of colour vision deficiencies, researchers were able to test the colour vision of surviving family members to support their case that Pugh almost certainly had a severe red-green colour deficiency.

But an analysis of the colours used in Pugh’s paintings failed to reveal any signatures that would suggest a colour vision deficiency. This is consistent with previous work, demonstrating it was not possible to reliably diagnose a colour vision deficiency based on an artist’s work.


Explore further:
New study sheds light on how we perceive color

Provided by:
The Conversation

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles