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Eye diseases gave great painters different vision of their work, Stanford ophthalmologist says

STANFORD, Calif. - Michael Marmor, MD, wanted to know what it was like to see through the eyes of an artist. Literally.

After writing two books on the topic of artists and eye disease, the Stanford University School of Medicine ophthalmologist decided to go one step further and create images that would show how artists with eye disease actually saw their world and their canvases. Combining computer simulation with his own medical knowledge, Marmor has recreated images of some of the masterpieces of the French impressionistic painters Claude Monet and Edgar Degas who continued to work while they struggled with cataracts and retinal disease.

The results are striking.

In Marmor's simulated versions of how the painters would most likely have seen their work, Degas' later paintings of nude bathers become so blurry it's difficult to see any of the artist's brush strokes. Monet's later paintings of the lily pond and the Japanese bridge at Giverny, when adjusted to reflect the typical symptoms of cataracts, appear dark and muddied. The artist's signature vibrant colors are muted, replaced by browns and yellows.

"These simulations may lead one to question whether the artists intended these late works to look exactly as they do," said Marmor who has long had interest in both the mechanics of vision and the vision of artists. "The fact is that these artists weren't painting in this manner totally for artistic reasons."

Degas and Monet were both founders of the Impressionist era, and their artistic styles were well formed before their eye disease affected their vision. But their paintings grew significantly more abstract in later life as, coincidentally, their eye problems increased.

"Contemporaries of both have noted that their late works were strangely coarse or garish and seemed out of character to the finer works that these artists had produced
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Contact: Tracie White
tracie.white@stanford.edu
650-723-7628
Stanford University Medical Center
10-Apr-2007


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