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Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 2008;106:402-25.

The visual difficulties of selected artists and limitations of ophthalmological care during the 19th and early 20th centuries (an AOS thesis).

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University of Toledo College of Medicine, Toledo, Ohio, USA.



To investigate the effects of eye diseases on several important artists who have been given little attention from a medical-historical viewpoint. The examples chosen demonstrate problems artists have had to face from different types of eye disease, including cataract, glaucoma, and retinal diseases. The ophthalmological care provided is described in terms of scientific knowledge at the time.


Investigation of primary and secondary source material. Discussion with art historians and ophthalmic historians. Examination of work by the artists.


Artists can be markedly affected by ocular diseases that change their ability to see the world. The individuals described here worked during the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Homer Martin suffered from cataracts, and his works reveal changes in details and color as he aged. Henri Harpignies, who had an extremely long career, undoubtedly had cataracts and may also have had macular degeneration. Angle-closure glaucoma blinded Jules Chéret. Auguste Ravier suffered from neovascular glaucoma in one eye and was able to work with his remaining eye, which developed a cataract. Louis Valtat suffered from what was in all likelihood open-angle glaucoma, but specific changes due to this disease are not apparent in his work. Roger Bissière developed glaucoma and did well following filtration surgery. George Du Maurier lost one eye from what was probably a retinal detachment and later suffered from a central retinal problem in the other eye.


Diseases of the eye may profoundly influence artists by altering their perception of the world. The specific effects may vary, depending on the disease, its severity, and the psychology of the artist. Cataracts typically affect an artist's ability to depict color and detail. The effect of glaucoma generally depends on whether central vision is preserved. Disease that affects the center of the retina has a substantial effect on an artist's ability to depict fine details. Ophthalmological care was limited during the lifetimes of the artists under consideration, by comparison to 21st century standards. When medical or surgical therapy was ineffective, the most important thing a physician could offer these artists was consolation against anxiety and depression.

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