There has long been speculation by the eyecare community about Van Gogh’s eyesight and why he used so much yellow in his paintings. Some have suggested that he may have been over-treated with a medication called digitalis. In toxic yet non-lethal doses, digitalis is known to cause Xanthopsia, commonly referred to as ‘yellow vision.’ The extensive list of disorders treated with the medication during that period include headaches, mental illness, nausea, melancholy and inflammation of the eyes, just to name a few. We know from Van Gogh’s own letters that he suffered from mental illness and that he often complained about his eyes, so digitalis causing the yellow vision is entirely possible.
Another theory about his yellow vision is that it could have been caused by absinthe, a known side effect from excessive drinking of the potent liquor. Absinthe was very popular in France at that time, with bars actually hosting ‘the hour of absinthe’.
Maybe, just maybe, none of this is true. Perhaps Vincent Van Gogh just loved the color YELLOW.
Another visual effect in Van Gogh’s paintings is the halo swirling effect as seen in his painting, The Starry Night. It has been suggested that he may have suffered from lead poisoning, caused by the use of lead-based paints used at that time. One visual symptom of lead poisoning is the swelling of the retina, causing a halo effect around lights. Others have suggested that Van Gogh suffered from narrow angle glaucoma attacks which can also cause colored halos. Of course, cataracts cause halos around lights at night but since Van Gogh committed suicide at the early age of 37, it is unlikely that he had cataracts.
Van Gogh was also quite famous for his multitude of Self Portraits. He painted over 30 ‘selfies’, but his choice of his eye color varied from portrait to portrait. Some have hinted that he might have had 2 different colored eyes. Or perhaps he was just colorblind and didn’t really know the true color his eyes.
Whatever is the case…he certainly had an eye for beautiful paintings.