Understanding Vision

The Vision of Claude Monet

How cataracts and light impacted his artistic vision.

25 September 2021
  • The Vision of Claude Monet

When seeing the remarkable paintings of the great artist Claude Monet it’s easy to see why he has left an indelible mark on the Impressionist movement and the world. Who would ever have thought that this outstanding artist had serious problems with his vision? The truth is he suffered from nearsightedness and distressing changes in his perception of color due to cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding and/or yellowing of the clear lens of the eye. Cataracts can be caused by age but there is data to suggest that UV light exposure may be a factor . Monet an outdoor painter, suffered from severe yellowing in his lenses in his later years. In 1922 Monet’s ophthalmologist, Charles Coutela recorded a visual acuity of PL (light perception only) in Monet’s right eye and a 6/60 on his left eye and recommended he undergo cataract surgery. In 1923, Monet had the lens of his right eye removed. The lens of the eye focuses light, with the removal of the yellowed cataract lens, Monet’s perception of light in his right eye was altered and this is reflected in later works. Afterwards, Monet sought assistance from ophthalmologist Jacques Mawas who dispensed a pair of glass lenses created by ZEISS. These lenses were called Katral, though Monet referred to them as “Mawas”, declaring them “perfect”. With the new lenses Monet was finally able to see what his paintings really looked like – and he was disappointed by the dull colors he now perceived. He immediately started painting over many of his completed pictures with brighter colors – even his marvelous water lily paintings, whose freshness and clarity still enchant us to this very day.

ZEISS started producing Katral lenses for patients who had undergone cataract surgery in a complex production process in 1912. They cost the equivalent of the rent charged for a four-room luxury apartment in a major European city at the time. As a relatively affluent painter, Claude Monet was able to afford these lenses in the later years of his life. They enabled him to pursue his artistic endeavors with even more fervor and enthusiasm than ever before. He suddenly saw that the colors he had been using until then had been too dull and promptly chose brighter ones.

If the innovations of 100 years ago were able to significantly improve Monet’s eyesight, one can only imagine how today’s technology would be able to dramatically improve his eyesight and the potential of that improvement on his art.

The good news is: we now understand the impact of UV radiation on eye health and its direct implications in the formation of cataracts and other eye diseases. With ZEISS UVProtect we can easily protect our eyes and those of our children from harmful UV radiation, thus preventing the very problems that Monet endured.

ZEISS sat down with Monet enthusiast and author, Aileen Bordman to discuss her relationship with Monet:

In the vision of Claude Monet – an interview with author Aileen Bordman. Author and filmmaker, Aileen, shares her inspiration for her new book, “Everyday Monet”, which describes the lifestyle of Monet and his personal voyage that helped shape his art. Aileen’s subsequent videos reveal how ZEISS and ZEISS lenses made an impact in Monet’s quality of life, art, and how his story might have turned out differently with the latest ZEISS UVProtect technology.

ZEISS Lenses and Claude Monet

How lenses changed his vision…and his art.

Imagine being the greatest living artist of your time and losing your sense of sight due to cataracts. Aileen shares how this happened to Monet and describes his experience having cataract surgery, regaining his vision with the help of ZEISS lenses , and how his paintings were forever changed.

Monet - the man of light

How lens technology impacts our ability to create art.

Monet, the man of light, had the profound ability to think about and alter light in his works of art. Aileen, the author of “Everyday Monet”, describes the importance of being able to view and change light with ZEISS lenses. ZEISS lenses are known around the world for their premium optics. She discusses how her photographic ability and the use of ZEISS camera lenses led her to success as a professional photographer.

How today’s technology might have impacted Monet

We know how important it is to protect our skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but many of us don’t think about protecting our eyes from UV. Author of “Everyday Monet”, Aileen, describes her discovery of ZEISS UVProtect technology and what it means for her, as well as the impact this innovative technology could have had on Monet’s paintings and life.

Monet’s famous paintings of water lilies and willows exemplify this change in his eyesight over the period of 1918-1922. As his cataracts progressed, his tones became darker and less distinct. During this time he had difficulty with various color hues, which one can see in the indistinct colorations of his later works. Upon receiving his cataract surgery and subsequent eyeglasses, he went on to revisit many of his works and improve upon them.

The absence of detail in Monet’s paintings during his period with cataracts is evident in the images below.

The absence of detail in Monet’s paintings during his period with cataracts is evident in these images.

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  • 1

    National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov/news/briefs/uv_cataract

  • 2

    Br J Gen Pract. The effect of cataracts and cataract surgery on Claude Monet. 2015 May; 65(634): 254-255