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Clin Exp Optom. 2009 Sep;92(5):421-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-0938.2009.00384.x. Epub 2009 Jun 10.

Colour blindness does not preclude fame as an artist: celebrated Australian artist Clifton Pugh was a protanope.

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Clinical Vision Research Australia, Victorian College of Optometry, Melbourne, Australia.



The aim was to make a posthumous diagnosis of the abnormal colour vision of the acclaimed artist Clifton Pugh and to analyse his use of colours to discern the strategies he used to overcome his limited colour perception.


A pedigree of Pugh's family was constructed by searching public records. Pugh had no daughters but he had two older brothers, one of whom was still living. We tested the colour vision of this brother and one of his daughters and one of his grandsons. Three children of the other brother were questioned about the colour vision of their father and one daughter was tested for heterozygosity with the Medmont C100. Four observers with normal colour vision categorised the colours used by Pugh in a sample of 59 of his paintings. Protanopic transformations of some of these paintings were made using the Vischeck algorithms to gain an appreciation of how Pugh saw his own paintings. The validity of the transformations was tested by asking a protanope to report if the transformations looked the same as the normal colour images of 10 of Pugh's paintings.


Pugh's brother was a severe protan. His daughter showed Schmidt's sign and was a carrier of the protan gene and her son was a protanope. The oldest brother was reported as having normal colour vision. Therefore, it is almost certain that Clifton Pugh was a protanope. Pugh used all colours in his paintings but preferred to structure them on brown, black and blue or, for high key paintings, on cream or flesh colours. He used greens and purples sparingly. The protanopic Vischeck transformations did not always look the same as the normal colour image for the protanope observer.


A severe colour vision deficiency does not preclude success as a painter. It is a handicap but there are strategies artists can use to overcome it.

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