Monday, May 12, 2008

Dr James MacCallum: Canadian ophthalmologist and friend of the Group of Seven

The XXVI Congress of the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons will be held in Berlin from September 13 to September 17.

In recent issues of EuroTimes, we have looked forward to the Berlin congress by profiling some of the great German philosophers who have shaped the future of ophthalmology including Goethe and Helmholtz.

Dr James MacCallum (1860-1943 does not fit automatically into this category but his influence on the arts merits a closer look at his life and career.

MacMCallum is indelibly linked to the work of The Group of Seven, a group of Canadian landscape painters in the 1920s, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A Y Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J E H MacDonald, and Frederick Varley.

Tom Thomson (who died in 1917) and Emily Carr were also closely associated with the Group of Seven, though neither were ever official members. The Group of Seven is most famous for its paintings of the Canadian landscape. It was succeeded by the Canadian Group of Painters in the 1930s.

I was lucky to see some of the Group of Seven’s work when I recently visited The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, an idyllic rural setting, approximately 30 kilometres northwest of downtown Toronto.

Of 10 artists who were members of the Group of Seven, six are buried in a small cemetery on the McMichael grounds: Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston, AJ Casson and A Y Jackson.

MacCallum was friend, patron and mentor to the Group of Seven and without his financial support, they would not have enjoyed the influence they do today. He was particularly close to Lawren Harris who studied in Berlin from 1904 to 1907.
His time in Berlin may have helped Harris learn his craft as an artist but it also may have reinforced his deep love of the Canadian landscape which was reflected in his subsequent work on his return to Canada.

Harris shared his love of the Canadian wilderness with MacCallum who promoted the Group of Seven by buying their work and also by encouraging others to do so.

In an essay in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) “Dr James MacCallum: patron and friend of Canada’s Group of Seven” (Can Med Assoc J 1996;155: 1333-5) Roger Burford Mason, notes that MacCallum’s keen delight in painting and in helping artists, expanded the borders of Canadian art.

MacCallum received a BA from the University of Toronto in 1881 and also spent two years studying in Moorefield’s Hospital in London, England before returning to Toronto in 1888 where he spent the next 50 years as one of Toronto’s most respected ophthalmologists.

In a letter to the CMAJ, Dr Graham E Trope, MB professor and head of the University of Toronto and ophthalmologist-in-chief of The Toronto Hospital points out that while he has been rightly honoured for his contribution to the development of Canadian art, in his time, MacCallum was also considered the most outstanding ophthalmologist in Ontario.

He was professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto from 1914 to 1929, published widely on ophthalmologic conditions and represented the university on the council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

And that is where it ends for now, but I'd be glad to hear from any readers of this weblog who have more information on James MacCallum.


Thanks to Mike Keenan whose website has excellent information on Kleinburg.

The information on Dr James MacCallum is sourced from the website of the Canadian Medical Arts Journal at:, and from Roger Burford Mason’s article: “Dr James MacCallum: patron and friend of Canada’s Group of Seven” (Can Med Assoc J 1996;155:

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