Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Artist's Eye

When I recently posted the above pic as part of a series of parodies and variations  on Van Gogh's Starry Night, I forgot to mention its title, which is part of the fun:  Dark Starry Knight.

See that post at:

Here is another on the same theme:

More starry night variations in the future.

Byter Sue sent me an email in relation to Van Gogh’s increasing manic swirls and haloed lights towards the end of his life.  I suggested that his swirls, light haloes etc increased as he descended more and more into mental disorder; that they were symbolic, if nor representative, of that increasing disorder.

From Sue:
It has been theorised that his art was influenced by either cataracts or by digitalis toxicity (foxglove was then used to treat both epilepsy and heart disease) 
Thought you might find these articles interesting:
Bit about cataracts if you are interested

The above articles are indeed fascinating.  Click on the links to read.

Thanks Sue.

Other famous artists have also suffered from eye disease or conditions which have been reflected in their art:

Degas suffered from retinal eye disease which caused failing vision from 1860 to 1910.

Degas’ pastel “Woman Combing Her Hair”, 1886.
During the mid-1880s he first began to talk about his “infirmity of sight.”

Degas’ “Woman Drying Her Hair”, 1905. 
After 1900, there was virtually no detailing of faces or clothing in Degas’ artwork.

Monet, a master of light and colour, suffered from cataracts that made it increasingly difficult to see colours.  He was forced to memorise where the colours were on his palette, to recognise the colours of tubes of paint by their labels and to decide what colours he would place where in his paintings.  The cataracts, as with Van Gogh, caused yellowing and darkening of the lens of the eye.  After cataract surgery in 1923, Monet was able to paint again and he threw out much of his work from the previous 10 years.

Monet’s “The Japanese Bridge at Giverny”.
Painted by Monet sometime between 1918 and 1924, showing the worsening of his vision due to cataracts. 

Compare with:

The Waterlily Pond, 1897


When Monet was talked into his cataract operation in 1923, he was aged 82 and almost blind.  He agreed to the operation on his right eye but not his left and was able to see out of his right eye with special spectacles.  Works from after the operation show that items painted using his left eye, the one still suffering cataracts, have a red and yellow domination; those using his right eye a blue cast.  By way of example, between 1922 and 1924 Monet painted a large number of works all called The House seen from the Roses Garden.  Here are some of them:

Monet died in 1926 and painted up to a few months before his death.
Other noted artists who have  been identified as suffering eye disease or malfunction which affected their work include the following: 

Rembrandt is said to have suffered from stereo blindness in one eye, that is, a condition where the eye perceives in 2 dimensions rather than 3. This is said to have assisted in turning images into 2 dimensional works.

El Greco is said to have had astigmatism, causing him to elongate his figures.

Constable’s blue-green colour blindness is the cause for his predominant yellow and brown landscapes, it has been suggested.

Clifton Pugh, the noted Australian artist, suffered from protanope, an inability to detect red. 

Likewise famous Australian artist Lloyd Rees could not distinguish blue and yellow, hence his style of landscape painting. 

Turner is believed to have suffered from cataracts, accounting for his later red and brown art works. 

Holbein suffered from astigmatism, with the result that his portrait of King Henry VIII displays an excessively wide girth compared to the rest of his body. When viewed through a corrective lens, the figure is much thinner. Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb shows the subject tall. When viewed through a corrective lens, Christ becomes wider with a more normal appearance. 

Hans Holbein the Younger, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1521-1522 

Some have speculated that Holbein painted Christ in the tomb flipping the bird:

I have not been able to find anything to either support or disprove that view, but given that the gesture dates from Ancient Greece and was also in use in Ancient Rome, it is conceivable.. 

Here is the first recorded photograph of someone flipping the bird, baseball pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn, back row far left, 1886. Funny how you sometimes secure your place in history. 

It has also been proposed that the portraits painted by Thomas Gainsborough showed the subjects with elongated bodies and necks as a result of his uncorrected astigmatism, the same as Modigliani.

Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pisarro, Cezanne, Matisse and Rodin all suffered from myopia, or shortsightedness. This caused a loss of detail in the works with the emphasis on light and colour, plus an emphasis on red. Indeed it has been suggested that the Impressionist Movement may well have been started by myopia and cataracts. 

Frank Miller, the writer and illustrator of Sin City among other works, suffers from total colour blindness so that he can only see in black and white. He also has problems with perspective as a result of stereoblindness in both eyes:

No, that’s not true. I made up the last one, the one about Frank Miller.


Fans of Sin City (I am one) will be pleased to know that shooting of the Sin City film sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, began in October 2012 and is due for release in October 2013.


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