Vincent van Gogh, one of the most recognizable artists in recent history, could have been colour-blind. It isn’t a new theory, but a colour science expert from Japan may have found a way to support this theory by using altered lighting.
Kazunori Asada has taken the colour-blind theory a step further by filtering images of van Gogh’s work through altered lighting that mimics colour-blindness. He finds the images are improved; the strokes blend better and the colours are more natural.
A ‘Color Vision Experience Room’ at the Hokkaido Color Universal Design Organization was designed to allow normal colour vision people to see the same way that those with colour deficient vision see. In his essay, Kazunori Asada, who had been invited to speak, writes that, within the room, he had noticed that some Van Gogh prints that were there appeared different than what he remembered.
Asada filtered many of van Gogh’s prints by changing the lighting to closely reflect what someone with protanopia (those who find it harder to distinguish between the colours in the green-yellow-red section of the colour spectrum) sees. Asada notes that although it may not be exactly how one with protanopia sees, it is a ‘useful starting approximation’. He also points out in his essay that the images shown on his site could differ greatly from the originals that van Gogh painted over a century ago.
When he looked at the art prints under the simulated lighting (protanomal simulation 60%), while the brush strokes are still bold and the colours are still distinctive, he found that they do appear to be more subtle under the filtration, saying that ‘the incongruity of color and roughness of line had quietly disappeared,’ reports the Daily Mail.Side by side images of before and after simulation can be seen on his website here.
Another theory reported in the Daily Mail, is that van Gogh suffered from a form of glaucoma. This theory could explain why the light sources in many of his paintings, especially night scenes, are painted with a halo effect.
Kazunori Asada has developed an app for Android/iOS which allows users to filter pictures so that they can see how a colour deficient person would see that image.
In an art blog on Huffington Post, a writer asks if the question of van Gogh’s visual ability even matters. Kyle Chayka writes that to narrow van Gogh’s talent down to biology is negating his creativity. He adds, ‘Van Gogh's colors are meant to clash; the unorthodox pairings were part of the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist aesthetic. Or were Paul Gauguin and André Derain also colorblind?’
What do you think about this technology? Could it explain Vincent van Gogh's style, or not? Does it matter either way? Do you prefer the van Gogh image or the altered version? Do you notice any difference at all?