Maria Iliou

September 22, 2017 by richard


Disability: Autistic


Maria Iliou is a Greek artist with autism spectrum condition. She is a life long resident of Long Island, New York, and is deeply involved as an advocate for the rights of people with autism. Her subject matter varies from the abstract to scenes of nature and family life. Maria has also organized her own autism group, Athena Autistic Artist. She is an artist with talent on many levels. She also writes poetry and is soon to have a book of her poems published.

Maria has also won many awards for her painting and poetry. These awards range from the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital Art Show to the Gallery on the Hill, Brookhaven, New York. She was also selected as the artist for the greeting cards of the Autism Society of America in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Her paintings are also on display at numerous Libraries and at Banks through out Long Island, New York.

Maria paints in a variety of mediums; Oils, acrylics, watercolors and mixed media.

I am a Greek Autistic artist. My greatest sense of self, of connecting with the world around me, comes from participating in the “Arts” – drawings, paintings, poetry, dance, acting, yoga, photography, and editing. I’m an artist with talent on many hidden, unique levels. I write poetry, and make hand-made macrame plant hangers, macrame hanging tables and floral arts; flower arrangements, and corsages.

I’m the Director Manager, Founder of the autism group, ATHENA AUTISTIC ARTIST. This group is made up of autistic people who become friends and family. We enjoyed social activities such as traveling together, trips, Christmas holiday and birthday parties, homemade foods with performances arts of poetry, acting, plays, going out to eat, miniature golf, and movies at home.

I’m Director Manager, Founder and have organized…designed, created my own home college: ATHENA AUTISTIC ARTIST COLLEGE. This college is designed for my daughter to give her college experiences and teach and work with her through performing arts as Athena is gifted artist. I’m the autism ambassador for Long Island, New York City.

Our future plans are to give others the same experiences as Athena and will be designed to their needs and abilities.

Tranquilities within her paintings of Expressions

Are unique varieties of emotions that

Spiritually touches Maria’s heart of soul

Extraordinarily Gifted feelings of accomplishment

Two expressive avenues are though her drawings and paintings

These illustrate a heart rendering appreciation of

Remembrances visualized and presented in the Art gallery

My paintings were selected as the artist for the greeting cards for the Autism Society of America in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Maria Iliou painting of her daughter Athena


From the depth of history, the name
Athena echoes with meaning…
Wisdom of arts
Fountain of knowledge
Pure innocence and beauty
In my life, the gifted daughter
Athena resonates with life
Able to translate inner beauty
Onto canvas, a capable
Abstract artist
Pictures transfer images
Seen only in her mind
Transformed from brilliant
Smile, or heartbreakingly
Teary eyes
A gift in my life, another
Perspective, different yet
Powerful, touching the deepest parts
Of my heart and soul
Empathic, my entire body feels
Her emotions, penetrating inner layers
As the core of my being
Echoes with meaning
Constantly in my thoughts, simplistic
Yet sensitive conversations arise
From the connection that binds

Maria Iliou "Autumn"

Stephen Wiltshire, 1974–

by richard


Disability: Autistic Wiltshire was born in 1974 in London to West Indian parents. He is an autistic savant and world famous architectural artist. He learned to speak at the age of nine, and at the age of ten began drawing detailed sketches of London landmarks. While he has created many prodigious works of art, his most recent was a eighteen foot wide panoramic landscape of the skyline of New York City, after only viewing it once during a twenty minute helicopter ride.

 Stephen Wiltshire MBE - Biography
Stephen Wiltshire is an artist who draws and paints detailed cityscapes. He has a particular talent for drawing lifelike, accurate representations of cities, sometimes after having only observed them briefly. He was awarded an MBE for services to the art world in 2006. He studied Fine Art at City & Guilds Art College. His work is popular all over the world, and is held in a number of important collections.Stephen was born in London, United Kingdom to West Indian parents on 24th April, 1974. As a child he was mute, and did not relate to other people. Aged three, he was diagnosed as autistic. He had no language and lived entirely in his own world.

At the age of five, Stephen was sent to Queensmill School in London, where it was noticed that the only pastime he enjoyed was drawing. It soon became apparent he communicated with the world through the language of drawing; first animals, then London buses, and finally buildings. These drawings show a masterful perspective, a whimsical line, and reveal a natural innate artistry.

The instructors at Queensmill School encouraged him to speak by temporarily taking away his art supplies so that he would be forced to ask for them. Stephen responded by making sounds and eventually uttered his first word – “paper.” He learned to speak fully at the age of nine. His early illustrations depicted animals and cars; he is still extremely interested in american cars and is said to have an encyclopedic knowledge of them. When he was about seven, Stephen became fascinated with sketching landmark London buildings.

Stephen Wiltshire - child artist
One of Stephen’s teachers took a particular interest in him, who later accompanied his young student on drawing excursions and entered his work in children’s art competitions, many of which garnered Stephen awards. The local press became increasingly suspicious as to how a young child could produce such masterful drawings.

The media interest soon turned nationwide and the 7 year old Stephen Wiltshire made his first steps to launch his lifelong career. The same year he sold his first work and by the time he turned 8, he received his first commission from the British Prime Minister to create a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral.

In February 1987 Stephen appeared in The Foolish Wise Ones. (The show also featured savants with musical and mathematical talents.) During his segment Hugh Casson, a former president of London’s Royal Academy of Arts, referred to him as “possibly the best child artist in Britain.”

Casson introduced Stephen to Margaret Hewson, a literary agent who helped Stephen field incoming book deals and soon became a trusted mentor. She helped Stephen publish his first book, Drawings (1987), a volume of his early sketches that featured a preface by Casson. Hewson, known for her careful stewardship of her clients’ financial interests, made sure a trust was established in Stephen’s name so that his fees and royalties were used wisely.

Hewson arranged Stephen’s first trip abroad, to New York City, where he sketched such legendary skyscrapers as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as part of a feature being prepared by the London-based International Television News. While in New York Stephen met Oliver Sacks.

Sacks was fascinated by the young artist, and the two struck up a long friendship; Sacks would ultimately write extensively about Stephen. The resulting illustrations from his visit – along with sketches of sites in the London Docklands, Paris, and Edinburgh – formed the basis for his second book, Cities (1989), which also included some drawings of purely imaginary metropolises.

Artists First (artist group, Bristol)

by richard

Artists First is a group of 16 disabled visual artists with learning difficulties based in Bristol.
We have been working together since 1988. We are used to running our own studios and have organised and been part of many exhibitions, residencies and open studio events.

Artists First includes artists who met while attending Social Services’ Day Centres and artists who have lived in long stay residential hospitals. We believe that as a group we can support each other and that we can do powerful work together, things that we could not do alone.

Since 2005 we have been based in a studio in Southmead, near where most of us live. We are making new work for exhibitions so people can see who we are and what we do.

We’ve recently begun working on one of our biggest projects yet as part of our 25th anniversary year.

To watch a short film introducing Artists First, go to

“My art has always been important to me and being seen as an artist first, not just as someone with learning difficulties, or the names they used to call us. Kathy and me talked about it in 1988 and we said, ‘let’s be called Artists First because that’s how we want to be seen.’ Art is important because it shows people what we can do; it changes people’s attitudes. I have been in lots of exhibitions and sold my work. I shall always work at my art because it makes me feel so strong.”

Carol Chilcott, Founding Member

“My work is not bad and it is important to me. I would do nothing if I didn’t do my art; making art is my life.”

Joan Clews has been a member of Artists First for over 18 years.Joan Clews

“I love art. I paint everywhere and I love painting holidays. My dad was an artist; he and I used to paint together. His name was Mike, Michael, and now he has gone, I keep the art going for both of us.”

Sarah McGreevy has been a member of Artists First for 20 years.Sarah McGreevy

“Art is important to me because it is in my heart. We used to go to St. Ives for painting weekends and I love making paintings about St. Ives. I like doing my art anywhere, though, as long as we are together.”

Kathy Stewart has been a member of Artists First for 20 years and creates her work using inks, pastels and different types of paint.Kathy Stewart

“It is of great enjoyment doing my art and of great interest as well because it makes me feel so good. All the different materials you can use: acrylics, inks, watercolours, oils, pastels. It excites you because of all that comes out of it. I get power out of it – and I feel I could do it forever and ever. I get a great excitement out of it. When I was 5 years old, I dreamt of being an artist but I was limited at school.”

Brenda Cook is 72 and lives in an older people’s home. She has been a member of Artists First for 12 years.Brenda Cook

“I think it is great, art. I like doing it at home, anywhere. I do things as I see them – some ideas come out of my head and some ideas come from stories. Male Face is like seeing your self differently in a mirror, it is like a reflection, almost like magic mirrors at a fair. They can change the size of your face. You are gazing into more of your self – that’s what I am doing in Male Face. Art makes you see things differently and that includes yourself.”

Nicholas SelwayNicholas Selway

Carol Chilcott

“Why are the canaries singing? They are in a cage and they are still singing. They make the people very happy. They are not like my sister’s parrot. They sing. It is a picture about making people happy through a song. It is about the songs we can all sing.”

Lizzy Lane talking about her painting ‘My Singing Canaries’.Lizzy Lane

“It is important for my work to get out there and be seen by lots of people. The paintings that are in this exhibition, I did them to dedicate the life I had with my partner, Roy, who recently died. I needed to do them because I wanted to show everyone that we were together in life. The pictures are from my head and I want to put my memories and feelings into paint.”

Jacky LongJacky Long

“My ambition is to get my work all around the world so I can share it with others – people can buy it if they want to. It makes me feel great that someone has my work on their wall. I am doing a lot of portraits and still life works at the moment.”

Peter Sutton has created over 400 pieces of art and would like to exhibit them all.Peter Sutton

“I like coming to do my art and I’ve done it for a long time. I like working with schools, sharing my art with young people. I like working with other disabled artists like James Lake and Eddy Hardy. Art makes me feel great – great fun doing it but it is hard work.”

Stephen Canby has been a member of Artists First for 15 years.Stephen CanbyBrenda Carr

“Our work is about beauty, being different and it’s about celebration too.”

Artists First

Tom HodsonTina Kelly
Kevin HoganBrian Davis

Liz and Molly – Brenda Cook     Still Life – Kathy Stewart

Roy and Me in Sun Hats – Jacky LongFace (Self-Portrait) – Joan Clews

Reflections – Nicholas Selway                   Living Room – Sarah McGreevy

St. Ives – Kathy Stewart                                        Mother and Baby – Joan Clews

Portrait of Joan as an Artist – Peter Sutton                                   Figures – Carol Chilcott

Firebird (From Triptych) – Jackie Long                          Firebird (From Triptych) – Joan Clews

Firebird (From Triptych) – Nicholas Selway                    Firebird (From Triptych) – Tina kelly

Woman – Joan Clews                                                  Male Face – Nicholas Selway

Figures – Carol Chilcott                                                    Secret Garden – Joan Clews

Portrait of Penny – Peter Sutton                                        A Place To Be – Tina Kelly

Lighthouse – Kevin Hogan                                             Mask – Nicholas Selway

Woman Wrapped – Joan Clews                                   Sloop Inn – Carol Chilcott

Thought – Peter Sutton                                               Having a Laugh – Steve Canby

My Singing Canaries – Lizzy Lane                            Portrait of Two – Joan Clews

Untitled – Claude Rimmer                                          Tribal Face – Nicholas Selway

Moon Through the Trees – Jacky Long                           Harbour – Kevin Hogan

Green Man – Nicholas Selway                                       Sundial – Sarah McGreevy

Houses with People’s Faces – Sarah McGreevy                     The Road In – Claude Rimmer

Self Portrait – Steve Canby                                         Self Portrait – Peter Sutton

Firebird (From Triptych) – Peter Sutton                           Untitled – Tina Kelly

Firebird (From Triptych) – Sarah McGreevy                       Jane’s Garden – Brenda Cook

In My Head – Steve Canby                                    Garden in the House – Kathy Stewart

Roy and Me – Jacky Long                                                               Firebird (From Triptych) – Liz Lane

Jester – Sarah McGreevy                                                 House On Its Own, Outside – Kevin Hogan

Keith Salmon, 1959–

by richard


Disability: Visually Impaired

Keith is a blind fine artist and avid mountain climber. He has climbed over a hundred Munros (a type of Scottish mountain), one of which can be seen in the first painting below. In 2009 he won the Jolomo award for Scottish landscape painting.

Keith Salmon was born in Essex and moved to Wales in the late 1960s. He studied for his BA in art at what is now Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology and Falmouth School of Art between 1979 and 1983. He originally trained and worked as a sculptor, constructing pieces from steel, wood and cement fondu. On completion of his studies he moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north east of England where he set up his first studio.

In 1989, Salmon moved back to Wales and set up a new studio. Around this time his sight deteriorated very quickly and within a few years he had to stop exhibiting work. He then decided to make the most of the time he still had sight and put his efforts into drawing and painting, finding new methods using just the very limited sight he now had left.

In 1998, he moved to Irvine, Ayrshire, in Scotland and, though registered blind, had enough confidence in the new paintings and drawings he created to once again start exhibiting them.

During this time his work has developed in two different styles: organised scribbles that form his drawings, and the bolder, broad marks in oil or acrylic paintings. Most of his works are based on his experiences while out walking in the Scottish Highlands. Over the last few years he has combined the scribbled pastel line with the painted acrylic marks, stating that he is “trying to capture a little of how I experience these wonderful wild places”.

At present Salmon keeps a studio space at Courtyard Studios in Irvine and is regularly exhibiting his work again.

artist with easelPap of Glen Co 2011

Tanya Raabe-Webber

September 10, 2017 by richard


Tanya Raabe other wise known as Tanya Raabe-Webber was Born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has been a practising Visual Artist, devising artworks exploring and challenging identity, a disabled self and the nude in contemporary Art since 1987. She gained a BA(HONS) in Graphic Design at Leeds Polytechnic an MA in Communication Design at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PGCE in Higher Education fron Huddersfield University.

Tanya has exhibited as a solo artist and in group shows nationally including screening Who’s Who at National Portrait Gallery, Exhibitions at Holton Lee, Dorset, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, The Bluecoat, The A Foundation, Liverpool, Oriel Wrexham, Laing Gallery Newcastle since 1990.

Tanya Raabe-Webber is an acclaimed disabled artist challenging the notion of identity within contemporary portraiture, often creating portraits of high profile disabled people during live sittings in public art galleries and venues.

The winner of Ability Media International Award, Visual Arts in 2010 and DaDa International Festival, Visual Arts Award 2008, Tanya has also appeared on the BBC programme The Culture Show, undertaking a live televised portrait of the actor, musician and performance artist Mat Fraser and was recently shortlisted for The National Diversity Awards Lifetime Achievement.

Her recent collection Revealing Culture : HeadOn – Portraits of the Untold was delivered through a partnership between Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where live portrait sittings took place during a series of residencies in these venues, sitters including Tom Shakespeare Sociologist – Bioethicist, Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton, D.B.E, Active Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords and Sir Bert Massie CBE Former Chair of the Disability Rights Commission.

She has worked on many commissions including Architects Inside Out: Tate Modern and Art Matters: Tate Britain and most recently co-presented her collaborative research with Project Ability at the Contemporary Outsider Art: the global context conference in Melbourne Australia.

Sandy Nairne Director of National Portrait Gallery opens Whos Who at Shape, Tanya and Tony Heaton R:Evolve an instalation from the Revealing Culture collection, Bluecoat, Liverpool

Photo on the left: Sandy Nairne Director of NPG, Artist Tanya Raabe-Webber Tony Heaton, CEO Shape opening of Portraits by Tanya Raabe-Webber

Commissions include:

International Film Festival Canada – Picture This is sceening short Film ‘Portrait of Deborah Williams’ Feb 2012 – Calgary, Alberta. Canada


JGarry-RobsontomshakespeareRobert Softley and Nathan Gale

Portraits Dame Jane Campbell, Debs Williams Actor /Producer, Nabil Shaban Actor, Gary Robson DA Da Fest, Prof Tom Shakespeare, Robert Softley and Nathan Gal

Awards recieved:

  • Winner of Ability Media International Award, Visual Arts 2010,
  • DaDa International Festival 2008 Visual Arts.
  • Arts Council England Grants for the Arts awards include Who’s Who 2008, Revealing Culture:HeadOn 2009-11.

Some of her other work includes Advisor on Cultural Olympiad commission ‘Artists Taking the Lead’, and participatory work in Galleries, Schools, colleges and theatres nationally. Her work has been Published internationally in Representation of Sex, by H. Hagiwara, Osaka Women’s University, Japan.

Tanya is presently working on series of portraits commissioned by Meadow Arts and she is an associate Director of Fittings MultiMedia Arts . Tanya also recently created live portraits of high profile cultural figures who have helped to define a thriving Disability cultural identity with in a contemporary society. These portraits were created during a series of portrait sittings open to the public in Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Portraits of the Untold A collaboration with Tate Gallery  Film of Portrait of Evelyn Glennie Deaf Musician

Tanya Raabe-Webber is an acclaimed disabled artist challenging the notion of identity within contemporary portraiture, often creating portraits of high profile disabled people during live sittings in high profile public art galleries and venues.

She has been a professional artist since 1987. Tanya’s extensive collection of contemporary portraits and images of a disabling world often make use of a variety of mediums including mixed media collage, digital media, and traditional paint which she blends seamlessly to create her images.

There are significant aesthetic differences between Raabe-Webber’s earlier pieces and her current style of portraiture.

Quotes from Tanya

‘My work is driven by the portrayal of the diversity of humanity’

Tanya Raabe

‘I am a visual, issue-based artist/illustrator practising in the art of mixed-media painting and drawing. My artwork focuses on issues that are born out of my life experiences as a woman and a disabled person. I am an artist and a disabled artist creating images of myself in my environment that’s dominated by a society obsessed with physical beauty and perfection. I analyse and challenge some of the stereotypes and myths surrounding disabilities developed through years of misrepresentation concerning the body beautiful. Oppression and marginalisation has fuelled my drive to succeed as an artist and as a disability arts practitioner. My pictures are abstract/figurative, visually stimulating and emotionally challenging. Because I have a unique insight into disabled peoples’ lives and a high standard of professional art skills, I have combined this knowledge to develop and coordinate professional disability arts projects, residencies and workshops in art galleries, resource centres and arts centres around the country. Disability art is part of my history and I am part of its history. This is an art movement that has not been recognised by art historians. Disabled artists have yet to be valued and recognised as professional and take their place in art history. But I continue to develop new artwork and contribute to the disability arts movement and I am successful in my field. My work has been published and exhibited nationally and internationally.’

Tanya Raabe 2011 Sophie Morgan Portrait

Disability Arts Movement highlights

Her popular ‘Who’s Who’ and ‘Revealing Culture: Head On’ series’ challenge the notion of portraiture using disability aesthetics and visual language.

These painted portraits depict disabled artists and pioneers of the Disability Arts and Cultural sector and were exhibited nationally, including an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2009:

Further Reading

Her most recent project is ‘Portraits Untold’, is an ambitious live portrait project exploring and celebrating our common humanity; involving a series of live streamed portrait events in high profile venues including the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust:

Who’S WhO – Defining Faces of an Arts Movement

Who’S WhO is a collection of portraits created by Tanya Raabe-webber Visual Artist. The portraits challenge the notion of portraiture using disability aesthetics and visual language. The portraits are of established and new emerging disabled artists who have and continue to pioneer disability arts and culture in a society that uses perfection, beauty, and normality as a ‘must have’.

Each artist has been chosen because of their influence in shaping disability art as an arts movement in its own right and have in some way shaped the art work of leading disabled artist Tanya Raabe-Webber. Another aspect of the project was Multimedia Portraits which combines the production and working processes of the paintings and drawings in transition with sound, vision and text, hearing each artist talking about their history of art and their working processes. Studio Talks contextualises the subjects juxtaposing their position in a challenging society exploring disability art and culture.

Dr Paul Darke

Artist/Writer/Cultural Critic. Paul is recognised for his frankness about the state of disability arts and for his historical exploration of disability representation in film. Paul has been developing his own artwork using the internet since 2000. “Its guerrilla art from a disability art perspective.”

Portrait of Paul Darke by Tanya Raabe

Mat Fraser

Actor/Performance Artist/Singer/Songwriter/Playwright. Mat is recognised as an actor in the mainstream and for being an ambassador of the representation of disabled people in the media while causing controversial disability arts debate within disability culture, and for being born disabled but not ‘coming out’ as a disabled person until he was in his 30’s.

Portrait of Mat Fraser by Tanya Raabe

Colin Hambrook

Painter/Disability Arts Writer . Colin is recognised for his paintings about his experience as a disabled man and mental health system survivor. His paintings are part of the NDACA National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, at Holton Lee. Colin is presently the artistic director of a contemporary cyber space keeping alive and developing disability arts into the 21st century.

Portrait of Colin Hambrook by Tanya Raabe

Tony Heaton

Sculptor/pioneer of NDACA, National Disability Arts Collection and Archive at Holton Lee.Tony is recognised for being a Sculptor in his own right and for his work at Holton Lee, setting up Faith House art gallery, accessible studio spaces, NDACA and campaigning for disability art to be recognized as an arts movement in its own right.

Portrait of Tony Heaton by Tanya Raabe

Nikki Hewish

Deaf Artist – Installation Artist. Nikki is an emerging deaf artist in the early stages of her career exploring her ideas about the world around her using sculptural material to create installations.

Portrait of Nikki Hewish by Tanya Raabe

Dave King

3D Fantasy Digital Artist. David has a background in science and delves into the realm of 3D computer graphics utilizing the useful metamorphosis of mathematics to produce imagery. “My work intends to deliver the potency of using digital techniques to produce art by using structure and shape to employ techniques of object and anatomical construction”

Portrait of Dave King by Tanya Raabe

Julie McNamara

Singer/Songwriter/Playwright/Raconteur/Activist. Julie is recognized for her amazing stories about her experiences as a disabled woman/mental health system survivor that she has interpreted into performance/plays/songs that have given others the will to live, and for being ‘cured’ of her disabilities by the ‘medical profession’.

Portrait of Julie McNamara by Tanya Raabe

Zoe Partington – Sollinger

Installation Artist/Disability Arts Consultant Zoe is recognized for her work in equality training and is emerging as a disabled artist in her own right creating conceptual installations based on her experiences as a disabled woman in a disabling world.

Portrait of Zoe Partington – Sollinger by Tanya Raabe

Allan Sutherland

Writer/Playwright/Performance poet. Allan is recognized for his “love of words”, his radio play ‘Inmates’, and as the author of ‘Disabled We Stand’ a book exploring disability culture and identity that has been a ‘light bulb’ for people to identify them selves as disabled people and for The Edward Lear Foundation an established Disability Arts think-tank on the internet.

Portrait of Allan Sutherland by Tanya Raabe

Who’S WhO exhibition history & portraits

Who’S WhO Exhibition Launch 15th March 2008 – 19th May 2008

Who’S WhO was funded by Arts Council England

Arts Council England logo

Shape London : 12th November 09 – January 31st 2010.

27a Access Artspace: 20th July – 10th September 2009.

Solihull Arts Complex: 25th May – 5th July 2009.

Oriel Wrecsam / Wrexham Arts Centre: 7th March -18th April 2009.

National Portrait Gallery; Meet The Artists: 23rd March 2009.

Qube Gallery Oswestry: 2nd February – 28th February 2009.

The Place Theatre Telford: 18th October – 20th November 2008.

DaDaFest International 08 at the A Foundation Liverpool: 18th August – 7th September 2008.

Beaumont College Arts Festival: 7th – 11th July 2008


All artworks are © Tanya Raabe 2011. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

Vincent Van Gogh, 1853–1890

by richard

“One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.”

Around the time that Tolstoy was tussling with depression and his spiritual crisis, on the other side of Europe another creative icon was struggling with the darkness of his own psychoemotional landscape. As he was painting some of the most celebrated and influential art of all time, Vincent Van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890) was combating his anguishing mental illness — frequent episodes of depression, paralyzing anxiety and, according to some accounts, the symptoms of bipolar disorder — which would eventually claim his life in 1890, shortly after his 37th birthday.

Van Gogh’s most direct and honest account of his psychoemotional turmoil comes from the letters to his brother Theo, originally published in 1937 as the hefty tome Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh and later excerpted in My Life & Love Are One (public library) — the same wonderful 1976 gem that gave us his thoughts on love, tracing “the magic and melancholy of Vincent van Gogh.” The title comes from a specific letter written during one of the painter’s periods of respite from mental illness, in which he professes to his brother: “Life has become very dear to me, and I am very glad that I love. My life and my love are one.”

Dutch newspaper report from December 30, 1888: ‘Last Sunday night at half past eleven a painter named Vincent Van Gogh, appeared at the maison de tolérance No 1, asked for a girl called Rachel, and handed her … his ear with these words: ‘Keep this object like a treasure.’ Then he disappeared. The police, informed of these events, which could only be the work of an unfortunate madman, looked the next morning for this individual, whom they found in bed with scarcely a sign of life. The poor man was taken to hospital without delay.’

In one of the early letters, Van Gogh expressed an aspiration that remained significant for him throughout his life:

Let us keep courage and try to be patient and gentle. And not mind being eccentric, and make distinction between good and evil.

It’s also a thought bittersweet in hindsight, given the self-compassion it implies for being eccentric. Years later, that very eccentricity would be interpreted as madness by his neighbors, who would evict him from his house and lead to his checking into an insane asylum.

Meanwhile, his bouts of depression, when they descended upon him, were unforgiving. In another letter to Theo, he writes:

I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.

‘Self-Portrait with Straw Hat’ by Vincent van Gogh, winter 1887/1888

But underlying his deep despair is a subtle sense of optimism that carries him and enables him to continue painting despite the mental anguish:

This is my ambition, which is founded less on anger than on love, founded more on serenity than on passion. It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is within me a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest huts, in the dirtiest corner, I see drawings and pictures. And with irresistible force my mind is drawn towards these things. Believe me that sometimes I laugh heartily because people suspect me of all kinds of malignity and absurdity, of which not a hair of my head is guilty — I, who am really no one but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and especially of people.

Like artist Maira Kalman, who asserted nearly a century and a half later that work and love are the two keys to a full life, Van Gogh begins to see his work as his unflinching sense of purpose, his salvation:

How much sadness there is in life! Nevertheless one must not become melancholy. One must seek distraction in other things, and the right thing is to work.

Having at one point subsisted primarily on bread, coffee and absinthe, he embraces work as life’s highest reward, worth any sacrifice:

I believe more and more that to work for the sake of the work is the principle of all great artists: not to be discouraged even though almost starving, and though one feels one has to say farewell to all material comfort.

‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear,’ 1889, painted shortly after he sliced off his own ear

But in reflecting — as Kurt Vonnegut memorably did — on what makes life fulfilling, it seems that rather than conveying a conviction to his brother, Van Gogh is trying to convince himself:

I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?

And yet, Van Gogh ultimately sees his psychological struggles not as something to negate but as his artistic truth, as a vital part of his honest experience, which is the necessary foundation of great art:

Do you know that it is very, very necessary for honest people to remain in art? Hardly anyone knows that the secret of beautiful work lies to a great extent in truth and sincere sentiment

During his time in Auvers in the South of France from mid May to his death by suicide on July 29th Vincent produced many oil paintings over 77 that are recorded. This prodigious output has been linked to the manic stage of his Bi-Polar . Here are some of them.

Sheaves of Wheat July1890Thatched Cottage in JorgusJune 1890Wheat Fields at Auvers Under Clouded Sky July 1890Young Girl Standing Against a Background of Wheat June 1890Wheat fields with Crows July 1890Young Man with Cornflower June1890Portrait of Adeline Ravoux 1 June 1890Fields with Wheat Stacks July 1890

Van Gogh’s Mental and Physical Health

Hundreds of physicians and psychiatrists have tried to define Van Gogh’s medical conditions over the years. The following are some of the more probable mental and physical diagnoses.

Van Gogh suffered from seizures which doctors, including Dr. Felix Rey and Dr. Peyron, believed to be caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. Van Gogh was born with a brain lesion that many doctors believe was aggravated by his prolonged use of absinthe causing his epileptic condition. Dr. Gachet, another of Van Gogh’s physicians, was thought to have treated his epilepsy with digitalis. This prescription drug can cause one to see in yellow or see yellow spots. This may have been one of the reasons why Van Gogh loved this color.Temporal Lobe Epilepsy


Bipolar disorder

Due to Van Gogh’s extreme enthusiasm and dedication to first religion and then art coupled with the feverish pace of his art production many believe that mania was a prominent condition in Van Gogh’s life. However, these episodes were always followed by exhaustion and depression and ultimately suicide. Therefore, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or manic depression makes sense with the accounts of these episodes in Van Gogh’s life.


Thujone poisoning

In order to counter act his attacks of epilepsy, anxiety, and depression, Van Gogh drank absinthe, a toxic alcoholic drink popular with many artists at the time. Thujone is the toxin in absinthe. Unfortunately, the Thujone worked against Van Gogh aggravating his epilepsy and manic depression. High doses of thujone can also cause one to see objects in yellow. Various physicians have differing opinions on whether or not this is what caused Van Gogh’s affinity with yellow.


Lead poisoning

Because Van Gogh used lead based paints there are some who believe he suffered from lead poisoning from nibbling at paint chips. It was also noted by Dr. Peyron that during his attacks Van Gogh tried to poison himself by swallowing paint or drinking kerosene. One of the symptoms of lead poisoning is swelling of the retinas which can cause one to see light in circles like halos around objects. This can be seen in paintings like The Starry Night.



Hypergraphia is a condition causing one to need to write continuously; this disorder is commonly linked to mania and epilepsy. Some believe that the massive collection of over 800 letters Van Gogh wrote during his lifetime could be attributed to this condition.



Because Van Gogh strived for realism in his paintings he was often painting outdoors especially during his times in the South of France. Some of his episodes of hostility and the nausea and “bad stomach” he refers to in his letters may have been the effects of sunstroke.


A new exhibition explores the Dutch master’s psychological torment. 26 AUGUST 2016

Until now, the way of testing whether or not someone had good biographical knowledge of Vincent Van Gogh was to ask them about the famous ear-cutting incident. The answer ‘he cut off his ear’ informed you the speaker had only a hazy comprehension, whereas the knowledgeable person replied ‘in actuality, Van Gogh cut off only part of his ear’. Now new information suggests that Van Gogh did indeed cut off his whole left ear. On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness, a new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (closes 25 September), accompanied by an excellent catalogue, attempts to get as close as possible to the truth about Van Gogh’s physical and mental illnesses.

The confusion about the ear incident sprang up during Van Gogh’s lifetime. On the 23 December 1888, Van Gogh was living with Paul Gauguin at the Yellow House in Arles. Gauguin announced his intention to leave Arles after persistent rows with Van Gogh. Deeply anxious and depressed, Van Gogh slashed his ear with a razor. He presented the ear wrapped in newspaper to a prostitute at a local brothel. The next day police discovered Van Gogh unconscious in his house surrounded by blood. Vincent’s brother Theo (who supported him morally and financially) raced from Paris on Christmas Day to comfort Van Gogh in Arles hospital.

Jo Van Gogh-Bonger (Van Gogh’s sister-in-law and someone who met him several times after the incident) claimed it was part of the ear, whereas doctors, policemen and reporters in Arles claimed it was the entire ear. Van Gogh became ashamed of his mutilation and attempted to conceal it, leading to the contradictory statements of associates. Some witnesses may not have seen the injury clearly and others repeated what they had been told. What seems to be the clinching proof that he did cut off almost his whole ear (except a stump of the lobe) is a diagram made by Dr Felix Rey, the attending physician in Arles.

While biographically interesting, the ear incident in no way helps us understand Van Gogh’s art. What does have more bearing on his artistic production and life is the multiple illnesses he suffered from. Irritable and melancholy by nature and prone to fixations on individuals and ideas, Van Gogh’s devotion to work led him to neglect his health. Though he spent on art materials, he ate poorly. The loss of most of his teeth in his early thirties led to gastric trouble. He suffered from insomnia. And he contracted gonorrhoea, and possibly syphilis.

Van Gogh’s poor diet, tiredness and overconsumption of alcohol and caffeine – plus his tendency to overwork – contributed to attacks of mania, which physicians at the time diagnosed as epileptic fugues. In these states, Van Gogh ate paint and attempted to drink turpentine and paraffin. He had seemingly no control over his actions and experienced visual and auditory hallucinations. After these attacks he would be overcome by lassitude, depression, his speech would be jumbled and he would fail to recognise familiar people. Even when not in these post-manic phases, he suffered from extreme nervous tension and paranoia.

There have been numerous suggested diagnoses of Van Gogh’s mental illness, but none is without flaw. Psychosis, bi-polar disorder, borderline-personality disorder, neurosyphilis, Meniere’s disease, poisoning and other suggestions have been put forward. Van Gogh never painted during his nervous attacks, but his illness and his (voluntary) confinement did influence his choice of artistic subjects and even his materials. During phases when he was considered at risk of relapse, he had no access to oil paint and was only allowed ink and watercolour. His attachment to religious subjects and the themes of family life and the life of prisoners were direct comments on his situation.

In Arles hospital, Van Gogh was treated for his wound, but it was clear he was mentally ill. The local postman, a Protestant pastor and a cleaning lady all made strenuous efforts to support Van Gogh, regularly sending Theo updates after he returned to Paris, leaving his brother in Arles. Van Gogh’s condition fluctuated. Local residents in Arles started a petition and gave a verbal deposition to the effect that Van Gogh’s lewd and unpredictable behaviour frightened people, that he had inappropriately touched women and followed them into their residences. A document was drafted which would have committed him to an asylum. Van Gogh – fully aware that he was ill and a danger to himself – voluntarily committed himself to an asylum in nearby St Remy.

In May 1889, Van Gogh moved from St Remy to Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village near Paris, where he could be close to Theo, Theo’s wife Jo and their baby. Dr Gachet, a friend of painters, would take care of Van Gogh. Though isolated and nervous, he was productive over the summer and seemed to have achieved equilibrium. On 27 July 1890, Van Gogh apparently shot himself while out painting in a field. He staggered back to his boarding house. Doctors determined that the bullet wound to the abdomen was fatal and inoperable. He died in his brother’s arms on 29 July.

Included in the catalogue is a photograph of a pistol recovered in 1960 from a field near the site of Van Gogh’s shooting. It is a reasonable assumption this artefact is the fatal weapon. The catalogue’s authors do not discuss the idea put forward by biographers Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh that Van Gogh was shot by local teenage boy Rene Secretan, a theory that prominent Van Gogh experts consider improbable.

The curators and writers have commendably resisted translating Van Gogh’s illness into explanations for his art, but they do show how his conditions influenced his life and outlook. It is unlikely that new material will come to light that will permit clear diagnosis of his mental condition, but this exhibition and catalogue do bring us closer to understanding the distress of one of art’s greatest geniuses.

Alexander Adams is a writer and art critic. He writes for Apollo, the Art Newspaperand the Jackdaw. His book On Dead Mountain is published by Golconda Fine Art Books. (Order this book from the Pig Ear Press bookshop.)

On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness is at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, until 25 September. The exhibition catalogue, published by Mercatorfonds, is available to buy here.

Paula Rego, 1935–

by richard

Paula Rego and her son discuss unravelling the artist’s tortured life on film


Paula Rego and the flying mermaids in her north London studio CREDIT: ©NICK WILLING/©NICK WILLING 

Awoman, in a black dress with bare feet, presses herself into a sofa. Her posture is cowered, and her arms are crossed across her chest protectively. One leg is drawn up against her body, as if in pain, and there’s a deep frown line down the centre of her forehead. In her hands, she clutches a brown piece of rubber that loops between her legs. Her face is blank, and she hugs the rubber tightly, as if trying to wrap herself in it. This picture is from artist Dame Paula Rego’s Depression Series of works on paper, which is on show for the first time at London’s Marlborough Fine Art gallery to coincide with the screening of a BBC documentary made by her son Nick Willing about her life.

images (4)

Rego was born in 1935 in Portugal, and has through her life switched  between there and London, where she studied at The Slade School of Fine Art and currently resides. She ostensibly works in paint and pastel, and often draws on folk-themes from her native country, and reflects on feminism. A remarkable talent, now 82 years old, she is considered to rank among the 20th century’s best painters. She has also ploughed a furrow for female artists, talking passionately about feminist issues such as abortion, and paving the way them to be taken seriously. Whilst at The Slade, Rego met artist Victor Willing, who she later married, and with whom she had three children – Nick, Cassie and Victoria.



The film Nick Willing made about his mother’s life, Secrets and Stories, will be shown on BBC Two this weekend. “There are two reasons that my mother agreed to let me make the film now,” he explains. When Portugal cut its arts funding during the recent global recession, one of Rego’s museums was affected by the cuts and Nick hired a lawyer to try to coordinate deals and contracts; the work brought the mother and son closer together. “Our relationship evolved, and she started telling me these stories that I’d never heard before,” says Nick. “The stories just cropped up in coversation. So I said: why don’t you make a film and you can tell everybody about your life?” She agreed, and Secrets and Stories was born. The archive of footage he draws upon, and splices together is varied, fascinating and detailed as he has been filming his mother ever since 1975, when, aged 13, his grandfather gave him a video camera.

images (12)
Paula Rego and her husband Victor Willing at their house in Ericeria, Portugal CREDIT: CREDIT: MANUELA MORAIS/CREDIT: MANUELA MORAIS

Making the film was also a cathartic exercise for Willing. When he was a child, him and his siblings Cassie and Victoria were locked out of his parents’ studio in the grounds of their house in Ericeria, a small, traditional port town in Portugal. He recalls how the only way he was able to spend time with his mother was when they’d draw together, and the only time she opened the studio door to him was when he poked a drawing underneath. When she saw it, she allowed him in, and asked him to explain the drawing. “The film was cathartic on all sorts of levels. I got to know my mum not only through her work, but also through my work. That’s how we’d always connected, through the work, drawing and so on. Now I was using my work – I’d been a filmmaker all my life. So I was in a way doing what she’s always done, which was use work to unravel something that I don’t fully understand about myself and about my family.”


In the film, this unraveling involves some piercingly honest anecdotes from mother to son. For example, she describes how she lost her virginity to artist Willing’s father at a party when she was a student at The Slade. “He told me to come into a room and take down my knickers, and I just did it. I was a virgin, so you can imagine the mess that caused. He could have at least hailed me a taxi, not at all. He stayed in there tidying up.” As Willing explains it, was closer to a rape than a romantic moment. “That was the first time she’d told it like that,” he says. “And it really wasn’t pleasant at all. She ended up falling completely head-over-heels for my father; she had very, very, strong feelings for him. And it’s the feelings that have to be corralled and come to terms with in the pictures – that’s what the pictures are for – they’re for somehow trying to come to terms with those difficult feelings.”

The same is true of the Depression Series, which features twelve pastels in muted black, ochre and mustard yellow that Paula Rego made in 2007 when in the depths of a  depression that nearly killed her. At the time, she locked them in a drawer, partly because she was ashamed of being so depressed, and partly because she was afraid that if she opened the drawer, she might become depressed again. “The pictures show the way I felt,” says Rego about the series. “Stuck, as if tied up, unable to move. Sometimes I hold onto the wrong thing – like that big rubber thing in the picture – thinking that it might help, but on the contrary, it doesn’t help at all. You don’t know good from bad.”

Paula-Rego-Depression-Series images (2)

Another revealing moment in the film is when Nick asks his mother to tell him about the thing in her life that she’s most proud of. She answers that it was winning the first prize in a painting competition at The Slade while a student there. “I was taken seriously for the first time. Even though I was a foreigner and a woman, they thought my picture was the best.” This was a revelation for Paula, who, for the first time, understood the true power of art. Winning the prize gave her the strength and confidence to go ahead and do it,  to do the things she’d always wanted to do.

images (6)

Paula and Nick 
Paula Rego and her son Nick Willing in the artist’s north London studio CREDIT: CREDIT: NICK WILLING /CREDIT: NICK WILLING

Throughout her life art has been her weapon, her strength and her voice, her power. She has used drawing as a way of expressing the truth about a situation, her real thoughts and feelings, whereas in real life she has capitulated and avoided conflict, she says. When fighting to overturn laws banning abortion in Portugal in the late Nineties, she made a series of etchings, drawings and paintings showing the reality of the suffering women experience when having them illegally.  For Paula, her work and her life are contingent – one cannot exist without the other. “If I think I’ve done something good I feel better,” explains Paula about her work in relation to depression. “By moving, doing something, keeping going helps. It’s essential to life.”

Paula Rego: Depression Series, Marlborough Fine Art, 14 March – 1 April 2017,

Paula Rego: Secrets & Stories, directed by Nick Willing, airs on BBC Two on the 25th March at 9pm,

Interview 2009

Interview in the Guardian 2009  ‘You punish with Drawing’

Pablo Picasso, Blue Period Art and Depression

by richard

Pablo Picasso 1901-1904 Blue Period Art and Depression

Self Portrait Blue Period Self -Portrait

The Blue Period (SpanishPeríodo Azul) is a term used to define the works produced by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso between 1901 and 1904 when he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. These somber works, inspired by Spain and painted in Barcelona and Paris, are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time.

This period’s starting point is uncertain; it may have begun in Spain in the spring of 1901 or in Paris in the second half of the year. In choosing austere color and sometimes doleful subject matter—prostitutesbeggars and drunks are frequent subjects—Picasso was influenced by a journey through Spain and by the suicide of his friend; Carlos Casagemas took his life at the L’Hippodrome Café in ParisFrance by shooting himself in the right temple on February 17, 1901. Although Picasso himself later recalled, “I started painting in blue when I learned of Casagemas’s death”, art historian Hélène Seckel has written: “While we might be right to retain this psychologizing justification, we ought not lose sight of the chronology of events: Picasso was not there when Casagemas committed suicide in Paris … When Picasso returned to Paris in May, he stayed in the studio of his departed friend, where he worked for several more weeks to prepare his exhibition for Vollard”. The works Picasso painted for his show at Ambroise Vollard‘s gallery that summer were generally characterized by a “dazzling palette and exuberant subject matter”.Picasso’s psychological state worsened as 1901 continued.

The death of casagemas Picasso 1901The death of casagemas Picasso 1900

In the latter part of 1901, Picasso sank into a severe depression and blue tones began to dominate his paintings. Picasso’s painting La mort de Casagemas, completed early in the year following his friend’s suicide, was done in hot, bright hues. The painting considered the first of his Blue Period, Casagemas in His Coffin, was completed later in 1901 when Picasso was sinking into a major depression. Picasso, normally an outgoing socializer, withdrew from his friends. Picasso’s bout of depression was to last several years. Picasso’s career had been promising before 1901 and early in that year he was making “a splash” in Paris. However, as he moved towards subject matter such as society’s poor and outcast, and accented this with a cool, anguished mood with blue hues, the critics and the public turned away from his works. Members of the public were uninterested in displaying the Blue Period works in their homes. Picasso continued his output, but his financial situation suffered:


His pictures, not merely melancholy but profoundly depressed and cheerless, inspired no affection in the public or in buyers. It was not poverty that led him to paint the impoverished outsiders of society, but rather the fact that he painted them that made him poor himself.

From 1901 to 1903, he painted several posthumous portraits of Casagemas, culminating in the gloomy allegorical painting La Vie, painted in 1903 and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Picasso_la_viepicasso (1)Portrait d'Angel Fernandez de Soto,The Frugal Repast Picasso 1904

The same mood pervades the well-known etching The Frugal Repast (1904) which depicts a blind man and a sighted woman, both emaciated, seated at a nearly bare table. Blindness is a recurrent theme in Picasso’s works of this period, also represented in The Blindman’s Meal (1903, the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and in the portrait of Celestina (1903).

_the_blind_mans_meal_1903celestina 1903 ( Blind)Old Beggar with Boy1

Infrared imagery of Picasso’s 1901 painting The Blue Room reveals another painting beneath the surface.[9]

Other frequent subjects include female nudes and mothers with children. Solitary figures dominate his Blue Period works. Themes of loneliness, poverty and despair pervade the works as well. Possibly his most well known work from this period is The Old Guitarist.

Old_guitarist_chicagopicasso_1902_las_dos_hermanasPortrait of Soler 1903

Other major works include Portrait of Soler (1903) and Las dos hermanas (1904).

Picasso’s Blue Period was followed by his Rose Period. Picasso’s bout with depression gradually ended, and as his psychological state improved, he moved towards more joyful, vibrant works, and emphasized the use of pinks (“rose” in French) and other warm hues to express the shift in mood and subject matter.Picasso’s depression didn’t end with the beginning of his rose period, which succeeded the blue period and in which the color pink dominates in many of his paintings. In fact, it lasted until the end of his cubist period (which followed the rose period) and only in the period thereafter, which was his neo-classicist period, did Picasso’s work begin the show the playfulness that would remain a prominent feature of his work for the rest of his life. Picasso’s contemporaries didn’t even distinguish between a blue and a rose period but regarded the two as one single period.

Acrobat and Young Harlequin, 1905 & Boy with Pipe 1905download

The painting Portrait of Suzanne Bloch (1904), one of the final works from this period, was stolen from the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) on December 20, 2007, but retrieved on January 8, 2008.





Paul Cézanne, 1839–1906

by richard

CÉZANNE, PAUL (1839-1906)

Who was Paul Cézanne?


Paul Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839, in Aix-en-Provence, France and died in his home in Aix at age 67 on October 23, 1906. Although born out of wedlock, Cézanne was acknowledged by his father, a hatter turned wealthy banker. Cézanne’s parents were married in Aix a few years after his birth.

In 1857, at the age of 18, Cézanne enrolled at the École Gratuite de Dessin (free drawing school) in Aix. At the encouragement of his father, Cézanne attended law school. He dropped out in 1861 to travel to Paris pursue his art. While in Paris he attended a private art school, the Académie Suisse (Claude Monet attended the same school). Despite the submission of a variety of his work, Cézanne’s paintings were never accepted by the traditional and prestigious French Salon.

Cézanne worked in Aix and Paris for many years. Cézanne refused to enlist in the French army during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and was considered a draft-dodger. He fathered a son born in 1872, with Hortense Fiquet, whom he married several years later.

1886-90 Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Gardanne oil on canvas 62.5 x 91 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.cezanne-1880

Cézanne’s work found favor with the Impressionists, and he displayed three paintings in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Although generally a solitary man, Cézanne was close friends with some of the other Impressionists. Camille Pisarro was Cézanne’s most consistent supporter from 1861 onward; Cézanne was named one of the executors of Pissaro’s will. Cézanne and Claude Monet were also good friends, and greatly admired one another’s work. His fellow artists frequently commented on the clarity and elegance of his varied subjects. Cézanne had an uncanny ability to juxtapose various forms, colours, and textures into a unified composition. Monet, as well as Edgar Degas and Paul Gaugin all included Cézanne’s paintings in their collections.

los_jugadores_de_cartas 18901897

Despite his friendships, Cézanne was wary of the world and spent most of his life in relative isolation. He wrote, “I should remain alone, people’s cunning is such that I can’t get away from it, it’s theft, conceit, infatuation, rape, seizure of your production, and yet nature is very beautiful.” – from a letter to his son, also named Paul, September 28, 1906. His childhood friend, the famous French writer Emile Zola, with whom he carried on an active correspondence, was a significant influence in his life. Cézanne was characterized as private and frequently misunderstood. Painting was an obsession. Just before his death he complained to his son, “ I live a bit as if in a void. Painting is what matters most to me.” His last visit to Paris was in 1904 and he died two years later.

1976.68_retrato-campesino 1905legrandibagnanti,i,1906

Cézanne aimed to transform the Impressionist style of painting into something more concrete. He was an important bridge from the Impressionists to more modern forms of art. Like the other Impressionists, Cézanne believed it imperative not to copy an object, but to depict the sensations it created. He said, “to paint is to register these color sensations.” He painted an unusally wide variety of subject matter, from portraiture, to landscape, to still life. Cézanne’s style of painting was quite different from that of some of the other Impressionists such as Renoir and Monet and his brush strokes were more deliberate than those of many of his impressionist contemporaries.

Cézanne’s Myopia: A Shortcut to Abstraction?


Although perhaps only coincidence, a large number of the Impressionist painters were “nearsighted” (ie. myopes). For example, Cézanne, and Renoir both suffered from and appeared to exploit the blur induced by their myopia in their work. Renoir was known to step back from the canvas so that it was out of focus. Cézanne, when offered spectacles raged, “take away those vulgar things!” Arguably, the sharp focus produced by corrective lenses worked against the global abstract style that the Impressionists sought to achieve. In short, uncorrected myopia may have offered a “shortcut” to abstracting the general forms and colors of the scene being painted.

In 1890, at age 51, Cézanne was diagnosed with diabetes which is speculated may have induced some concurrent retinopathy. Later, as he entered his 60s, Cézanne began to complain of “cerebral disturbances” that prevented him from moving about freely. The extent and nature of these cerebral disturbances, however, is unclear.

Edgar Degas, 1834–1917

September 9, 2017 by richard

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)edgar-degas-9269770-1-402

Edgar Degas was a French painter, sculptor, and engraver. He is best known for his paintings of dancers, and he excelled in capturing their movement and artistry.

Edgar_Degas_-_Dance_Class edgar-degas-young-spartans-exercising

Degas’ vision problems began in 1870, at age 36, probably due to retinopathy, or problems with his retina. He found it difficult to tolerate bright light, especially sunlight, and preferred to work indoors in more light-controlled environments, such as the opera and ballet stages he depicted in many of his paintings.


In 1874, at age 40, Degas also developed a loss of central vision, possibly from macular degeneration. His vision continued to deteriorate and by 1891, at age 57, he could no longer read print. As his vision changed, however, Degas learned to adapt. He began working with pastels instead of oils (since pastels require less precision), and took up sculpture, printmaking, and photography.

To better understand how Degas’s vision changed, it’s helpful to compare his paintings.

Degas painted A Woman with Chrysanthemums, which contains much fine detail, in 1865, when he was 31:woman_with_chrysanthemums 1865

In contrast, Degas painted Two Dancers, which contains broad brush strokes and very little fine detail, in the period between 1890-1898, when his vision problems were well advanced:


Edgar Degas completed this pastel titled “Woman Combing Her Hair,” in 1886. During the mid-1880s, he first began to talk about his “infirmity of sight.

3-woman-combing-her-hair-edgar-degas 1886Edgar_Degas_-_Woman_at_Her_Toilettedegas Woman drying her hair 1905



By the time Degas completed his eyesight had dropped to somewhere between 20/200 and 20/400. Marmor notes that after 1900, there was virtually no detailing of faces or clothing in Degas’ artwork.