A lesson from Monet: His vision developed his art

Monet's lilies painting 1916-1923Monet’s vision reached a lot deeper than his eyes could see.

Professor Michael Marmor, an Ophthalmologist who led a team of researchers at Stanford University, has been quoted in Times Online as saying that the beloved artist Monet “derided the developing abstraction in art.” Yet as he aged, Monet’s paintings became increasingly abstract. According to this article, it’s thought that Monet sometimes added more blue tones to compensate for his yellow vision as cataracts stole his colors. Or perhaps he just remembered the blue hues that he saw before his vision failed.

Monet “wrote letters to friends, how colors were getting dull, and it was hard to tell them apart, and how he had to label tubes of paint,” according to Marmor as quoted in LiveScience. According to this article, it is thought that his vision gradually became more brownish or monotone, and that as his vision worsened, red-orange tones and blue-green tones appeared almost the same to him. The LiveScience article also provides an excellent vision simulator of how cataracts may have changed Monet’s vision.

Claude MonetAn article from the Evening Standard, London, calls Monet’s failing eyesight “the secret behind” his work. An article by Phyllis Tuchman, published in The Lancet, April 13, 2002, is aptly entitled “The Monet Who Wasn’t.” Tuchman writes, “We watch him evolve from a somewhat traditional painter to a master…. Before Monet was finished, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism were invented.”

Monet’s vision problems were due to cataracts. Whether we have Strabismus or cataracts or both, what can we learn from Monet? We can learn that even the masters at their craft sometimes feel inadequate in the face of physical loss. Monet expressed frustration (see the LiveScience article), but he didn’t quit. He missed his colors, no doubt. But he used what he had.

Monet has been called a visionary painter. His failing physical vision developed his abstract art. But more importantly, because he had the vision to move forward in spite of “what wasn’t,” he was able to develop what was.

That’s a lesson all of us could take to heart!

Claude Oscar Monet, also known as Oscar-Claude Monet, (Nov. 14, 1840 – Dec. 5, 1926) was one of the founders of the French Impressionist style of painting.

I have selected Monet’s lovely painting of his nympheas (lilies) as a Featured Photo.

How Monet lost his colour vision and invented a new way of seeing, Ben Hoyle, Times Online, May 16, 2007.

The Blurry World of Claude Monet Recreated, Andrea Thompson, LiveScience, May 11, 2007.

Monet’s secret style: His poor eyesight Mark Prigg, the Evening Standard, London.

The Monet Who Wasn’t, Phyllis Tuchman, The Lancet, April 13, 2002.

Photo Credit:Claude Monet, WebMuseum, Paris.

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