Thursday, February 27, 2020

Monet Contemplates Eye Surgery

French impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) began to notice that something was changing in his vision. 

According to a British medical journal, he said that "‘colours no longer had the same intensity for me’, that ‘reds had begun to look muddy’ and that ‘my painting was getting more and more darkened.’ 

"To avoid choosing the wrong colors, Monet started to label his tubes of paint and keep a strict order on his palette. Glare from bright sunlight complicated things further forcing Monet to wear a big straw hat outside."

He traveled to London to consult with German ophthalmologist Richard Liebreich, who recommended cataract surgery, but Monet refused. But by 1914-15, he noticed that his color vision was worsening.”

Monet after eye surgery
"After Monet became increasingly despondent and less productive, Georges Clemenceau, former French prime minister and physician, urged his friend to consider cataract surgery. Frightened, however, by the fate of his fellow artists Honor√© Daumier and Mary Cassatt, whose cataract operations had been unsuccessful, Monet was adamant to avoid surgery at all costs.”
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Read the rest by Anna Gruener at the British Journal of General Practice
Have you had cataract or LASIK surgery? How did it change your vision? Please share your story in the comments.

19 comments:

Pattie Wall said...

I actually feel his dilemma these days, as I age, my eyes aren't helping me like they used to and it gets frustrating. Eye dr. has said I need to address this condition, soon. I am amazed they did this surgery all that long time ago. Wonderful post!

Dave said...

Had cataracts in both eyes taken care of about eight years ago. Could not be happier.

They do one eye at a time and the first thing I noticed was how yellow the vision was in the "old" eye compared to the new one with the plastic lens. They corrected for vision too - tack sharp.

You do not get the same range of focus so I do need reading glasses (WalMart or Dollar Store are fine).

Bil Hardenberger said...

One of my favorite experiences when I visited France a few years ago was stopping at Giverny and touring Monet's house and garden. Its remarkable how it has survived all of the devastation that passed through that part of France in the 20th century.

Thanks James, I knew he had eye problems but not that he refused surgery, or even that they performed cataract surgery over 100 years ago.. how frightening must that have been?

debraji said...

In 1846, Charlotte Bronte wrote "Jane Eyre" while her father was recovering from cataract surgery. "On 28 August he was operated upon, without anaesthetic, to remove cataracts. Surgeons did not yet know how to use stitches to hold the incision in the eye together and as a consequence the patient was required to lie quietly in a darkened room, for weeks after the operation." (Wikipedia)

Helen said...

I had exactly Dave’s experience. Left eye first with a special lens to correct my dreadful astigmatism, then the right, also with the special lens. The full moon was round! The light in my closet was blindingly bright.

As for painting, I’d always used my bad left eye to see where I needed to fix things. Hard to explain, but I could check balance and colors and values. Now I have to do the mirror or upside-down trick. Or take a phone photo to see the thumbnail.

There’s really no recovery period, zero pain. Delightful experience. Poor Monet — even as late as the 1960s my grandmother had to have her head immobilized for two weeks, and then she wore very thick glasses.

By the way, I have 24 pairs of cheap reading glasses and I still can’t find any.

Margaret said...

I had poor poor vision from the age of 10 years old...had glasses and contact lenses from that time....had cataract surgery several years ago...I did monovision, so I don’t need reading glasses for many things, but do need them for reading tiny print....I cried with joy when I could see the eye charts at the ophthalmologist’s...before I couldn’t even make out the big E! The good news - I wake up and can see myself clearly in the mirror....the bad news - I wake up and can see myself clearly in the mirror!��. In all seriousness - I am BEYOND grateful at the gift of this clear vision...I remember walking into our church afterward and the colors in the stained glass windows also brought tears...I can’t imagine Monet having surgery so many years ago, and I also can’t imagine being his surgeon without all the incredible instruments they have now.....

Beans said...

If cataracts were being surgically repaired over 100 years ago, they should be really good at it nowadays. Recent eye exam revealed beginnings of cataracts, told it would be 5 or more years before needing attention. The idea of getting my eyes surgically overhauled gives me the willies, and I've had multiple cervical fusions and lumbar slice 'n' dice. Weird how we are about our sense of vision.

GJ said...

My counsel here is: do not allow an ophthalmic surgeon to tell you It's not time yet. If it's coming it's coming, whether or not, and so the sooner you get cataract surgery done, the less otherwise productive time you lose. This is a complaint of advancing age, and the clock is ticking. It is not going to get better. I had cataract surgery done six months ago, having had my painting crony Brian Cohen standing on guard to let me know whenever he thought I was overstating violet. I look back now at pre-cataract work and see that I often was. Cataract surgery a bit of a production overall, [pre- and post assessments and follow-up] but the surgery itself takes about 10 minutes per eye and the transformation is gob-swiping. I used Lasix and they were brilliant. Turner used to say that light is yellow. Turns out it's blue, broadly speaking. And again being able to drive after dark is a definite plus. gj

CForester said...

Ironically you posted the question on the day I went for an eye exam. I have been wearing glasses for 30yrs. I have known about my cataracts for a few years. Decisions will need to made in the next year or so. Like "Beans", I too have had my own surgical overhaul with five major surgeries with extensive long term recovery, curtailing my art endeavors. Apprehension regarding this option for corrective sight surgery has been reduced by reading these comments regarding the positive results in this day and age.

James Gurney said...

I talked to a good artist friend of mine who had cataract surgery in his 50s, and he spoke in great detail about how he was missing the violets and blues because of yellowing effect of his cataracts. He said that seeing those colors again after missing them so long bowled him over, and was like seeing for the first time.

Linda Navroth said...

I had cataract surgery last year and was astounded at how much brighter things looked, the incredible color saturation, and sharp clarity of everything, down to being able to see the texture of paper in books I was reading. Poor Monet did not have benefit of the marvelous methods we have now. One wonders what he may have gone on to create with new eyes.

Linda Navroth said...

I was scared out of my mind to do it last year, but all my friends said it was the easiest surgery they'd ever had. They were right! I can't recommend it enough!

debstamp said...

I've always felt sadness for and an understanding of Monet's struggle. Allow me to encourage any of you hesitating or feeling anxious about cataract surgery to Just Do It. It truly is life changing, and as an artist, you'll find it even more incredible because of your awareness of color and light! My gratitude for this medical advancement is huge and my joy when picking up a brush and swirling it in oil paint is boundless.

Mary Ahern said...

I had my cataract surgeries a year ago and I'm almost completely satisfied. Well worth the minimal effort. There was a week between the right & left eyes and in that time I saw a distinct shift to yellow on the pre-operative eye. The mild downside is LED lights are too bright but I've adjusted to not looking directly into headlights when I'm driving at night. The unexpected upside is that I can walk in the rain without my glasses needing windshield wipers. I can now paint without glasses, which I haven't done ever in my life, which is great though I use cheap readers for close-up detail work.

Rainer said...

I had cataract surgery several years ago, both lenses replaced. Judging values in my paintings is easy again, and I can drive at night again.

Rhonda Bender said...

I'm in my early 50s, and have been told I have baby cataracts brewing. I suspect people with significant myopia get them sooner, though I'm not sure. My eye doctor assures me that everyone gets cataracts eventually, it's just a question of whether they live long enough. My husband has an eye condition that caused him to need cataract surgery at a younger age. Even with his poor eyesight it made such a difference to him in terms of how much light and colour he perceived after the surgery than he had before.

I dread it somewhat because of the mono vision. As much as I dislike being near-sighted, being able to take my glasses off to see things close-up is almost like having a built in low power microscope. The primary type of art I do is painting inch high figures to a high degree of detail. I don't know whether to assume I'll still be able to do that to the same skill level after surgery as I can now. I'm expanding my areas of artistic interest so I'll have something to do if I cannot

Quinn said...

This is a very timely post for me, and I'm greatly reassured by the comments!

Roberto Quintana said...

Without going into too much detail… I have been myopic (near-sighted) for most of my life. The good news is that the myopia can be corrected with glasses, which I have worn since I was 3. Strangely, I think this myopia is one of the reasons I was drawn to mural painting. About 10 years ago I began developing cataracts somewhat prematurely, probably from prolonged exposure to UV radiation from working outside, hanging on walls in the sun, and from exposure to ‘Black-light’ UV indoors, painting w special effects paints in the Theme-Park industry. Fortunately, at the time of the cataracts, I was working on a several months long project for a private estate and I was able to accommodate the slow developing amber-colored light shift as the cataracts ‘ripened’. Whites became yellowed, blues shifted to greens, and most other colors shifted towards amber and were lowered in saturation. I finally went under the knife when my night vision was affecting my driving.
The surgery was very short and painless, though quite uncomfortable and emotionally stressful. My whites were clear and crisp, Blues were amazingly vibrant and, well,,, BLUE! And the rest of my palette was restored, bright and well saturated. The really cool thing was that the artificial lenses they implant can correct for myopia and astigmatism! Even incorporating bifocals!! (Ben Franklin would be impressed)
I am now Far-sighted and no longer need to wear ‘Coke-Bottle’ glasses, which is very reassuring to my clients, and I can actually see the faces of the people around me when I’m out sketching. What a delight!
The only down-side is that the artificial plastic lens is fixed and you cannot refocus your eyes for varying distances and so must wear reading glasses and use a magnifying glass for very small print; and the lens refracts LED lamps and street lamps in weird ways. What a small price to pay for a miracle of modern medicine. –RQ

P.S. I was able to return to view my work several months after the surgery and I was surprised to see that most of my colors were fairly true, except for the last floral decorations I executed were all over-saturated, but passable as an overly exuberant artistic license. I’m glad they were floral patterns and not little neon-colored Putti on an Acid trip!

AndyDaMandy said...

I was recently diagnosed with Keratoconus, which lead to worries that I'd have to perform surgery to fix my vision (I've been seeing double a lot, usually with bright lights on dark backgrounds). This was a pretty unsettling discovery for an artist at 26. I can somewhat sympathize with what Monet was going through, but am thankful I live in a time where keratoconus is treatable with hard contact lenses instead of an invasive surgery.