Claude Monet experienced problems with his vision later in his life, and it would seem it had a direct affect on his art-making. He was 65 in 1905 when he complained of not being able to perceive color in the same way. Then in 1912, at the age of 72, he was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes by a Parisian ophthalmologist. Let’s take a look at some of his paintings and make some observations.
Below left we have Waterlily Pond, painted in 1899 when Monet was 59. It looks like one of the many masterpieces that made Monet one of the most-famous artists of all time. Below right we have The Japanese Bridge at Giverny, painted by Monet around 1918, a good six years after he was diagnosed with cataracts. As you can see, it has a drastically-different feel, in the way the paint is handled and the style of brushstrokes. One could argue that Monet was simply 19 years older (and 78 years old) in the 2nd painting compared to the first, or that perhaps his style had evolved, but one has to wonder about the cataracts. If you’re not familiar with cataracts, it’s a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision. A few years later, in 1922, Monet wrote this to a friend: “My poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog. It’s very beautiful all the same and it’s this which I’d love to have been able to convey. All in all, I am very unhappy.” He eventually had a cataract operation on his right eye the following year, in 1923, but he was disappointed with the results.
Below we have two more examples of the evolution of Claude Monet’s visions and the way it affected his art: at left, The Japanese Footbridge, 1899; at right, Nympheas, Japanese Bridge, from 1920.