Edgar Degas’ Last Painting
This painting (click to enlarge) is believed to be one of the last or the last pastel painting made by Edgar Degas, with his eyesight almost completely gone. Degas’ visual decline began at age 36, shortly after enlisting in the National Guard during the Franco Prussion war, due apparently to a form of retinopathy. By his forties, Degas developed a loss of central vision. Painting became even more difficult, he had problems in distinguishing colors and later on asked his models to identify the colors of his media. His vision became progressively worse, and by 1891, at age 57, he could no longer read.
Degas never specifically described the impact of his vision on his art. As his eyes worsened, Degas changed media from oils to pastels, which are looser and easier to work with and require less precision. Difficulties in color differentiation may have contributed to the bold coloration of Degas’ later works. A decline in contrast sensitivity and acuity is demonstrated in the progressively wider strokes evident in his later works. Degas’ retinopathy also accounted for his move into sculpture, printmaking, and photography. While some of the changes in his work may be attributable to stylistic changes and personal development, his changing vision almost certainly played a role. It is possible that some of Degas’ greatness as an artist is attributable to his visual loss. Renoir, for example, said of Degas: “Had he died at 50, he would have been remembered as a good, competent artist, nothing more.”
Source: Vision and Aging Lab