I was fascinated by the research of an ophthalmologist that focused on visual infirmities plaguing artists in their later years and the effects of the infirmity on their art in Tuesday’s New York Times science section.
“On the fifth floor of the Museum of Modern Art, a three-canvas set of Monet’s water lilies spreads across a gallery wall in dazzling homage to the artist at the height of his brilliance. Off to one side is a painting of the Japanese bridge at Giverny from the early ’20s, when Monet’s cataracts were at their worst. It is a disturbing mix of dark reds and browns, much darker than the water lilies, yet just as compelling, perhaps, in its brooding intensity.”
“What has long been known about Monet’s later years is that he suffered from cataracts and that his eyesight worsened so much that he painted from memory. He acknowledged to an interviewer that he was “trusting solely to the labels on the tubes of paint and to the force of habit.”
Degas suffered macular degeneration, Renoir had rheumatoid arthritis, Mary Cassatt had cataracts and seizures attended to van Gogh. In almost all of these cases, the infirmities that attacked these famous artists happened after their places were assured in history as great artists.
This has led me to speculate that once an artist gains recognition, it does not really matter what that artist develops, we just look for and want confirmation of the fact that it was indeed painted by the person – be it illegible scrawls, colors incoherently massing into one other to form a dirty mess or just plain lack of attention to details (details that were earlier captured to meticulous effect) – it does not matter. We overlook incompetence (brought on by the onset of disease, drug overdose or otherwise) and reward the artist for what s(he) were once famous for…
Claude Monet, ‘Waterlily Pond’, 1899; Oil on canvas
Note: His vision problems did not start until 1912
Claude Monet, ‘The Japanese Bridge’, 1918; Oil on canvas