Accessibility links

French Artist Uses Precision Skill to Paint Prosthetic Eyes

  • Zlatica Hoke

Millions of people around the world need prosthetic eyes to replace the ones lost to accidents or congenital disorders. A French miniature artist has devoted his skill in detailed painting to help create prosthetic eyes that look very natural.

Twenty-one-year-old Valérie Baiocco fell off a horse in May 2009, severely injuring her head and damaging one eye. Three years later, she underwent surgery in an attempt to restore her eyesight. But the surgery failed and doctors had to remove the eye.

Then she heard of a lab in the southeastern city of Lyons that specializes in high quality prosthetic eyes, and she went there last year to see if they can make a prosthetic that matches her own eye.

"I was really looking forward to having a new eye, especially for aesthetic reasons. To have both eyes the same, and not to look different to other people - be they friends or people in the street, it's clearly best to have both eyes the same. You feel less different," she said.

Baiocco's prosthetic eye looks almost like her natural eye, thanks to the precise and detailed work of artist Philippe Jacquin Ravot. He specializes in such precise painting that sometimes he needs a magnifying glass.

Ravot says a friend persuaded him to seek the job with lab owner Dominique Charles Messance who specializes in oculist prosthetics.

"A friend who lost her eye in 1992 talked to me about Messance. I went to see him, not with a resume, but with my work, my files, my miniature trees," he said.

Ravot says he was hired on the spot and has been working with Messance ever since. He says he paints about 650 prosthetic eyes a year.

"What interests me about this job is the precision, the use of colors which I use as an artist. It is interesting to have a job which is artistic, but it also helps patients who need a prosthetic eye," said Ravot.

The cost of a prosthetic eye at Messance is about $1,200. It takes about six hours to make it. A person can arrive in the morning and leave at the end of the day with a new eye.

Patients come from all over Europe, Russia and the United States.

Ravot also has painted artificial eyes for the wax figures of celebrities on display at the Musée Grevin in Paris, but he says he prefers to make them for real people in need.