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                                                                            Monet’s Purple Paintings and Your Cataracts

                                                                                                                         Erna Kritzinger (M 1974)


The lens in the healthy eye is crystal clear so that light can be transmitted to and focused on the retina in the back of the eye. With increasing age the proteins in the lens undergo change, resulting in yellow-brown discolouration and opacification to form a cataract. At the yellow-brown stage the cataract acts as a filter blocking violet-blue light (short wave-length) from entering the eye, but still transmits red light (long wave-length). Violet and blue therefore appear faded and reds become brighter.

For the past four decades it has been standard practice in cataract surgery to replace the cataractous lens with a clear acrylic lens (intra-ocular implant). This obviates the need for the thick “cataract spectacles” previously required after cataract surgery.Following surgery visual acuity improves and as an added bonus, colour vision recovers – a fact often commented on by observant patients.


The rather lurid colours of Monet’s later paintings are thought to have been the result of his cataracts. His purples and blues became increasingly prominent as he tried to overcome his reduced perception of these colours, by adding more and more of these pigments to his colour palette. After his cataract surgery, he was reportedly so surprised by the strange colours of his most recent paintings that he over painted several of them in an attempt to tone them down.


It is therefore ironic that some cataract surgeons recently started advocating the use of yellow tinted intra-ocular implants to replace cataractous lenses. Their rationale for this is that a yellow implant filters out harmful ultra-violet light and therefore protects the retina. This somewhat controversial practice is disputed by those who are concerned that these permanent “intra-ocular sunglasses” could lead to light deprivation and the development of the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) syndrome.









Monet – Water lilies

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