Tossing aside Vincent Van Gogh’s history as an Expressionist, Japanese medical scientist Kazunori Asada believes that his vivid palette was the result of faulty vision, that he was colorblind.
Don’t believe it, art lovers.
You’d think that with all the maladies plaguing our world, medicos wouldn’t have time to diagnose artists, especially since they’re terrible at it. Yet the list of doctors who make evaluations from paintings is long and the art of Van Gogh gets its fair share of these. Colorblindness is a new one. Doctors usually diagnose Van Gogh with glaucoma for his heavy use of yellow.
Let’s talk history. Van Gogh’s palette started out dark (he was a social realist early on), his palette brightened after he saw Rubens’ work. Studying Rubens gave him the idea to widen his range of colors for his own purpose – expression. Regarding “Night Café,” which is one of the works that Dr. Asada used for his finding, Van Gogh wrote, “I have tried to express with red and green the terrible passions of human nature.”
Seeing Rubens work, then, was a turning point in Van Gogh’s painting. Seeing it today is like seeing Rubens’ exuberant brushwork, bright palette and curving lines in fast forward. To decide that Van Gogh’s use of wavy lines and large amounts of yellow was because of glaucoma is like saying that Rubens’ feverish brushwork was due to the gout he suffered in his painting hand.
As for the colorblind diagnoses, “The Yellow Chair,” which is another of the works that Dr. Asada considered, was painted at a high point in Van Gogh’s life and was meant to represents his sunny view of the future. Sprouting tulip bulbs in a nearby box, painted a matching yellow, also speaks of his optimism. As if to emphasize the message, he marked the box “Vincent.” And his note to Gauguin shortly before they began to live together likewise speaks of his hopefulness: “I would so much like to imbue you with a large share of my faith that we shall succeed in starting something that will endure.”
Medicos pick on Impressionists a lot, too. Writing in the Archives of Ophthalmology, Dr. Michael Marmor attributed Impressionism http://quadrust.com/article/more-about-american-impressionism-at-mfa-st-pete to the cataracts of Claude Monet. Never mind Monet’s famous words about choosing to paint in the Impressionist style: “The only merit I have is to have painted directly from nature with the aim of conveying my impressions in front of the most fugitive effects.” And never mind that Monet had the cataracts surgically removed.
Then there’s the medical supposition that El Greco elongated his figures as a result of astigmatism. Never mind that X-Rays of El Greco’s paintings reveal that under the elongated figures are more realistic drawings, indicating that the artist distorted on purpose. Clearly, the elongations came from something other than an eye disorder. Apparently the doctor didn’t know that Cretan art in the 16th-century did not follow realistic Renaissance principles, that imagery represented religious feelings, not real forms. Elongations were El Greco’s way of conveying a striving to heaven.
Doctors can’t seem to help it. When they look at art, they see pathology.
Talk about pathology!