Reference numberMS/697
Previous numbersMS/780
TitleIllustrations of the mammalian eye by George Lindsay Johnson and Arthur William Head
CreatorJohnson; George Lindsay (1853-1943); ophthalmologist
Head; Arthur William (1861-1930); artist
DescriptionIllustrations by Arthur William Head and George Lindsay Johnson for Lindsay Johnson's papers on the comparative anatomy of the mammalian eye.

Paper initially abstracted in 'Proceedings of the Royal Society' Volume 66, 1900.

Paper published as 'Contributions to the comparative anatomy of the mammalian eye, chiefly based on ophthalmoscopic examination' in Philosophical Transactions' B Volume 194, 1901 inlcuding 50 coloured figures of mammalian fundi and 4 further plates of black and white figures and diagrams.

A further 50 illustrations that did not appear in this first paper were published as 'Ophthalmoscopic studies on the eyes of mammals' in 'Philosophical Transactions' B Volume 254, 1968, after Lindsay Johnson's death .
Extent2 boxes (1 MS Box, Large and 1 MS Oversize)
Physical description1 box of mostly watercolour illustrations mounted on card (68 sheets) and one box containing 160 35mm slides and accompanying documentation
ArrangementMS/697/1: original watercolour illustrations, mounted, 1901
MS/697/2: 35mm slide copies of artwork and offprints of paper and plates including listing of figures, accessioned in 1972
Access statusOpen
Access conditionsOriginal artwork delicate and to be handled with care. Use digital surrogates whenever appropriate.
Administrative historyIn 1901, in volume 194 of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society there was published a paper by Dr George Lindsay Johnson under the title 'Contribution to the Comparative Anatomy of the Mammalian Eye, chiefly based on Ophthalmoscopic Examination’. It attracted considerable attention mainly on account of the fifty coloured fundus pictures which accompanied it, representing nearly all the orders and many families. After the publication of his paper Johnson continued his researches, first in England and later in South Africa, where he lived after 1911. Most of the animals were examined in zoological gardens, but to complete his material, he undertook several journeys to Europe and Australia, and participated in two arctic expeditions.

He published an account of the fundus in Amphibia and reptiles (Johnson 1927) and made a few observations on birds, whose fundi have been fully described by Casey Wood (1917). The definitive work on the fundi of mammals which he had planned, however, was never published, and it is doubtful if it was ever written; in the later part of his life he became preoccupied with other problems. In any case, among the papers he left behind after his death in 1943, no manuscript of this kind was found. But the plates, 160 in number, were there, together with the explanatory text, and were acquired by Dr A. Jokl of Johannesburg. Through his efforts, and those of Professor Raymond Dart and Professor P. V. Tobias of Johannesburg, 50 selected plates were published in the Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society in 1968 as 'Ophthalmoscopic studies on the eyes of mammals' .

All eyes were examined by direct ophthalmoscopy with an ordinary (reflecting) ophthalmoscope and a uniform source of light. For very small animals, a smaller mirror was used with a working distance of 1 inch or less. With patience and kindness, most animals could be induced to tolerate examination without resistance. Smaller animals were placed on the lap of the keeper during the examination. Other animals were examined while restrained with a net, but larger animals, including bears and wolves which could not be quietened down, were placed in a sack and gagged. Some animals were hypnotized by the ophthalmoscope light and remained motionless. A large African lion immediately fell asleep when the light fell on its eye, so that it was difficult to keep the eye open. A general anaesthetic was used only rarely, on one occasion with a fatal result.

Although several of the pictures of the fundus were executed by Lindsay Johnson himself, he was greatly helped by Mr A. W. Head, an excellent draughtsman and well known artist. Lindsay Johnson taught Head to use the ophthalmoscope and most of the pictures were painted by him, under the constant supervision of Lindsay Johnson.The magnification of all the drawings, with one exception (that of the common mole, Talpa europaea, which is magnified 120 diameters) lies between 16 and 18 diameters. For the mole, Lindsay Johnson devised an illuminated micro-ophthalmoscope, using a mirror and low-power microscope.

[The above is from the introductory note to 'Ophthalmoscopic studies on the eyes of mammals' Phil Trans B, vol 254, 1968.]

Arthur William Head studied at the Slade school of Art and later became a landscape painter as well as an ophthalmic artist for Theodore Hamblin optical intrument maker and opticians and illustrator of many books on ophthalmology.

Head was trained how to operate an ophthalmoscope by George Lindsay Johnson whilst the latter was Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital and went on to produce work for his publication ‘Extra-Papillary Coloboma’ in 1890. This is believed to be the first book that Head worked on producing 12 colour paintings of the retina documenting a variety of Colobomas. In 1896 Head collaborated with William Adams Frost on the publication ‘The Fundus Oculi’. Head went on to work with Lindsay Johnson on the retinal paintings of mammals. Lindsay Johnson credits Head’s work in the preface‘ I was fortunate enough to obtain the assistance of that well-known artist and excellent draughtsman, Mr A.W. Head F.Z.S. It is entirely due to his talent that I have been able to obtain a great number of excellent and faithful drawings of the fundus oculi of most of most of the Mammals to be found in the menageries and zoological gardens of Europe’.

In an article by Marcus Woodward ‘Eye to eye with wild beasts’ in Pearson’s Mag. 1902;8:69–79 Head’s account of working with Lindsay Johnson is described along with how he began painting the retina of animals starting with a visiting terrier. While teaching ophthalmoscopic drawing to a student who was accompanied by their dog, Head picked up the animal and examined it, making a quick sketch of the retina. He was so pleased with the result that he took the painting to Lindsay Johnson who immediately asked for more examples. It is thought Head examined more than one thousand animals and produced over 200 drawings for Lindsay Johnson. As the article finishes Head mentioned his interest in drawing the retina of birds which he would later complete for Casey Wood’s publication ‘The Fundus Oculi of Birds’ in 1917, which contained 145 drawings and sixty-one coloured paintings. A letter from Richard Smellie of Theodore Hamblin (who later became good friends with Head) describes how a series of animal encounters while working on Lindsay Johnson’s book had a profound effect on Head’s mental health and it paints a different picture than the article in Pearson’s. The letter explains how a skirmish while examining a tiger ‘left him in a highly nervous state from which he never fully recovered’. After this experience ‘he spent much of his time in his own company, not wanting to mix with anyone’. Head was the greatest expert in ophthalmic paintings of this era and was the first artist whose name featured alongside the authors.

[The above is from Brett, J. 'Painting unknown worlds' in Eye (2023).]
Related materialDOI: 10.1098/rspl.1899.0125
DOI: 10.1098/rstb.1901.0001
DOI: /10.1098/rstb.1968.0016
Add to My Items

    Collection highlights

    Browse the records of some of our collections, which cover all branches of science and date from the 12th century onwards. These include the published works of Fellows of the Royal Society, personal papers of eminent scientists, letters and manuscripts sent to the Society or presented at meetings, and administrative records documenting the Society's activities since our foundation in 1660.

    The Royal Society

    The Royal Society is a Fellowship of many of
    the world's most eminent scientists and is the
    oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.
    Registered charity number 207043

    Website design ©CalmView


    + 44 207 451 2500
    (Lines open Mon-Fri, 9:00-17:00. Excludes bank holidays)

    6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG

    Email Us →


    Subscribe to our newsletters to be updated with the
    latest news on innovation, events, articles and reports.

    Subscribe →

    © CalmView