Journal of clinical rheumatology : practical reports on rheumatic & musculoskeletal diseases

Great artists with rheumatoid arthritis. What did their disease and coping teach? Part II. Raoul Dufy and Niki de Saint Phalle.

PMID 23211585


Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) and Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) were 2 famous artists who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both artists represent an additional outstanding example of successful coping with RA in former times when, for the first time, corticosteroids were available, but nevertheless treatment was very limited in the pre-biological era. Dufy was one of the earliest patients with RA who received corticosteroids and regained his creativity to paint for a few additional years, but finally he died of massive intestinal hemorrhages, the adverse event of the combination of corticosteroid plus aspirin. Niki de Saint Phalle, a self-taught French painter and sculptor, was one of the most significant and unconventional female artists of the 20th century. Her eventful life was full of emotional burdens and lifelong lung disease in addition to RA. Niki de Saint Phalle came out from each physical and emotional crisis with new forces and new artistic ideas. Interestingly, it has been suggested that the occupational exposure to colors contributed to the development of RA in artists, which used significantly more bright and clear colors based on toxic heavy metals such as Renoir and Dufy. Moreover, these 2 were cigarette smokers, a recently described risk factor for developing RA and increasing the severity once it does develop. Niki de Saint Phalle produced her sculptures made of plastic material without protection while she assumed that exposition to polyester and toxic fumes of polystyrene caused severe damage to her lungs, resulting in recurrent health problems.

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