The Real Reason that Monet’s Paintings Took a Dark Turn

The Real Reason that Monet's Paintings Took a Dark TurnClaude Monet is renowned for being the father of Impressionist painting. His bright, outdoor landscapes and soft, tender portraits are showcased in museums all over the world. One of the most fascinating methods Monet adopted was painting the same outdoor scene throughout the year to capture the changing of the light and the transition of seasons.

Toward the end of his life, Monet’s cheerful palate of pastels became muddled and muted. Had the Master of Color and Light become disillusioned by the cynicism of old age, or was he struggling to find inspiration?

The answer is neither. Monet confessed the true reason later: he had cataracts. After the removal of his cataracts, Monet lamented in a letter that he had progressively lost the ability to distinguish between colors. “I no longer perceived colors with the same intensity, I no longer painted light with the same accuracy. Reds appeared muddy to me, pinks insipid, and the intermediate or lower tones escaped me. What I painted was more and more dark, more and more like an ‘old picture,’ and when the attempt was over and I compared it to former works, I would be seized by a frantic rage and slash all my canvases with a pen knife.”

Monet’s letter gives a vivid description of one of the most common symptoms of cataracts: colors appearing muted or faded. For the average person, the fading or yellowing of colors could be frustrating or saddening, but for Monet, color was his livelihood.

Monet could have chosen to have his cataracts removed earlier, but he was terrified of the procedure. Cataract removal had been going on in Paris for over a century, but Monet’s dear friend and colleague, Mary Cassatt, had a less than positive experience with cataract surgery. In 1917, she agreed to have cataract surgery on her right eye, but her sight only worsened. Two years later, she had on operation on her left eye that was also unsuccessful and she never painted again.

In 1923, Monet finally agreed to have the cataract removed in one eye. The operation was successful, and the spectrum of colors returned to Monet’s palate. It is said that Monet visited local museums that housed his collections and obsessively tried to “correct” the colors when no one was watching!

Today, we have the advantage of 100 years of additional technology that Mary Cassatt and Claude Monet didn’t have. Cataract surgery is one of the most common and successful surgeries performed today. Most procedures are performed in an ambulatory surgery center, and you can recover in the comfort of your home. Restoring vision is no longer accompanied by fear and uncertainty. If you have been putting off cataract surgery, don’t delay any longer. You’re missing out on a beautiful and colorful world (Source: Doctor’s Review).

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Cataract Q&A with Dr. Jeff Taylor