Vision problems have no doubt been fairly common throughout history. However, the difficulties of prominent artists—celebrities that they are—often receive great attention. Claude Monet’s difficulty with cataracts, Mary Cassatt’s diabetes and cataracts that caused her to give up painting, and Jules Chéret’s (creator of those joyful posters of Parisian women) bilateral angle-closure glaucoma are the subjects of books.
Recently, I learned about three famous artists who went blind in the 1700s.
John Milton (the English poet famous for writing Paradise Lost) was born in 1674, 11 years before Johann Sebastian Bach (who composed the Brandenburg Concertos among other classical treasures) and Georg Friedrich Handel (perhaps most famous for the choral work Messiah).
Bach’s blindness and subsequent death, both at the age of 65, were reported to be “the unhappy consequences of a very unsuccessful eye operation” by British eye surgeon John Taylor (who performed two operations a month apart). 1
In 1751, at the age of 66, Handel developed a cataract and was operated upon by “the great charlatan Chevalier Taylor.”2
Again, the surgery was unsuccessful and he was completely blind for the last 7 years of his life.
Not all famous artists of this time became blind after failed surgery.