December 2002
Volume 2, Issue 10
Free
OSA Fall Vision Meeting Abstract  |   December 2002
Failing visual acuity and the late style of Edgar Degas: An optical blur analysis
Author Affiliations
  • Michael F. Marmor, MD
    Ophthalmology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
Journal of Vision December 2002, Vol.2, 118. doi:10.1167/2.10.118
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      Michael F. Marmor, MD; Failing visual acuity and the late style of Edgar Degas: An optical blur analysis. Journal of Vision 2002;2(10):118. doi: 10.1167/2.10.118.

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Abstract

The impressionist artist Degas painted dancers and bathing women over many years of his long career. However, while his figures were meticulously drawn in the early phases of his career, they were notably coarse and ragged in the last decades of his life. Was this a stylistic decision to be more abstract, or a result of failing vision? We know from several historical vantage points that Degas suffered from some type of maculopathy and that his visual acuity fell below reading levels towards the end of his life. Many older artists have quit when they could no longer produce the quality of work that met their standards. Yet Degas continued to paint.

I have analyzed Degas' work by blurring images to the probable level of his visual acuity in different years. With this approach one can see that Degas' decision to keep working may have been conditioned by his own inability to recognize the coarseness of his work. In other words, his hazy view smoothed out irregularities so that he would accept work that appears jarring to viewers with normal acuity.

Marmor, MF and Ravin JG: The Eye of the Artist. Mosby, 1997

Marmor, MF: Degas Through his own Eyes. Somogy (Paris), 2002

Marmor, M. F.(2002). Failing visual acuity and the late style of Edgar Degas: An optical blur analysis [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 2( 10): 118, 118a, http://journalofvision.org/2/10/118/, doi:10.1167/2.10.118. [CrossRef]
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