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5 World-Famous Artists That Had Disabilities

Famous disabled artists
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When we think about artists, we usually think about their skill, creativity, and vision. In our minds, famous artists are often put on a pedestal of genius, separating them from everyday people- especially ourselves. But did you know that while many famous artists had great skill, they also had disabilities to work around?

Here’s a glimpse of five world-famous artists that were living with a disability. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you learn!


Experts disagree whether Michelangelo had gout or osteoarthritis. But either way, the famous painter and sculptor recorded that he had significant trouble using his hands. He experienced both pain and limited function and mobility in his hands and feet.

Not only that, the artist was plagued with kidney stones- which does point more toward gout being the diagnosis. Whether osteoarthritis or gout, Michelangelo continued to chisel, hammer, and paint until he was almost 89 years old!

Some people blame Michelangelo’s disabling health problems on the overuse of his body. Repetitive use can damage joints. But on the flip side, doctors recommend that if you have arthritis, the best thing for your joints is to keep them moving. Physiotherapy or recreational activity can keep you healthier longer.

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Francisco Goya

Goya is known as one of the best portrait painters in history. But biographers divide his paintings into two periods- before and after his illness. Experts believe that Goya mainly suffered from neurological problems from syphilis. He experienced headaches, dizziness, hearing loss, visual problems, and even mobility issues in his right arm.

To treat the syphilis, Goya used ointments made with mercury- another poisonous substance. And to top it off, many of the paints that he worked with daily contained lead. There were a lot of factors that may have contributed to Goya’s ill health.

These health problems led to a period of depression and weight loss- but Goya continued to paint. Eventually, he became deaf, but his world of visual art continued. His earlier paintings were more realistic, but as his illnesses progressed, his art became more dramatic and imaginative. His illness did not limit his abilities; it only transformed them.


Paul Klee

Paul Klee was a painter, poet, and philosopher. He created a great number of paintings and sketches of a surreal nature. Although German, his artwork was connected to the Surrealist artists of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. While still creating a prolific amount of work, Paul Klee started suffering from a mysterious illness in 1935.

His symptoms included skin changes and problems with his internal organs. He finally died from his illness in 1940, still undiagnosed. Ten years later, the diagnosis was finally given the name, “scleroderma.”

Klee’s disease was rare and complex. It is estimated that the style and themes of 90 of his later works were influenced by his illness. Despite living with an unknown, systemic disease, Klee continued his art for five more years. Near the end of his life, he used his experience to fill his art with spirituality.


Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh had temporal lobe epilepsy as well as bipolar disorder. He was born with a brain lesion which may have been aggravated by his use of absinthe. It is believed that his physician, Dr. Gachet, prescribed digitalis to treat his seizures. One common side effect from this medicine is seeing yellow spots. Some historians wonder if this is why Van Gogh seemed to love to use the color yellow in his art.

Van Gogh created his artwork at a very quick pace. He would churn out multiple works, then experience a time of depression. This vacillation led to the speculation that he most likely had bipolar disorder. During his manic phase, he was very artistically productive. He was also known to have written over 800 letters!

Some of the symptoms Van Gogh experienced may have contributed to his art. For example, it is believed that the appearance of The Starry Night could have been inspired by the real halos of light that Van Gogh may have seen around lit objects due to swelling in his retinas.


Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse became a wheelchair user after having surgery for cancer. He did not let his loss of mobility dampen his spirits. Instead, he was reenergized, and called the last 14 years of his life “une seconde vie,” or his second life. Matisse felt that this period as a wheelchair user allowed him to re-think his priorities and free himself to do and say what he wanted.

Matisse adapted his artistic methods to suit his life in a wheelchair. He started making artwork out of coloured paper shapes. Matisse would cut out the shapes and direct an assistant where to stick the piece on a large piece of paper mounted on the wall. Matisse also used chalk on the end of a stick to sketch out the initial pattern of the picture.

When talking about his work, Matisse mentioned that while his mobility was limited, he could wander through gardens in the form of his artwork. Unable to travel like he used to, Matisse was able to experience beauty around him through the art he created with his own hands.


And The List Goes On

Want to discover even more people with disabilities doing great things? Check out this article, Famous Disabled People To Inspire Your Day, to find a whole list of actors, politicians, and athletes that have succeeded in their field.


Author:  Annie Beth Donahue is a professional writer with a health and disability focus. 


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