British author, illustrator, and polymath; wrote the first book in English on Poussin; early exponent of the so-called "Italian primitives". Graham was born Maria Dundas as the eldest of four children to Rear-Admiral George Dundas, and Ann Thompson (Dundas) at Papcastle near Cockermouth in Cumberland,UK present-day Papcastle, Allerdale, Cumbria, UK. She attended the school at the Manor House in Drayton, near Oxford, where she cultivated her interests in learning botany, history, geography, English literature, and drawing. Through her father’s connections in Richmond and Edinburgh, she frequently socialized with a wide circle of painters and collectors––such as the painter Thomas Lawrence and poet Thomas Campbell––further deepening her interests in the fine arts. Dundas received artistic training from William Delamotte (1775-1863), who encouraged her to engage with works of English art theory at an early age.
In 1808, Dundas’s father was appointed to a commission in the navy in Bombay. She and her younger siblings accompanied her father in India. On the way to India, she met naval lieutenant Thomas Graham (d. 1822) whom she married in 1809. Together, they moved back to England in 1811 and she made her debut as a travel author when she published Journal of a Residence in India , followed soon afterward by Letters to India in the same year. The couple traveled to Italy and Malta in 1819 and remained there until 1820. During this time, Dundas, now Graham, published the first monograph in English on the works and study of Nicholas Poussin titled Memories of the Life of Nicholas Poussin and another travel book titled Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of Rome. The Poussin book did not overall receive positive reviews from critics during its subsequent years. As they sailed towards South America in 1822, her husband died of a fever. Now in Chile and recently widowed, she lived among the Chileans for a full year, documenting and illustrating their lives and history in great detail in her journal.
In 1827, Graham married the painter Augustus Wall Callcott (1779-1844). Together they embarked on a year-long honeymoon to Germany, the Austrian Empire, Italy, and France touring art galleries and churches. They sought out early works, meeting with curators and artists who were reputed as a “revolution in art.” Graham, now Callcott, took extensive notes on early Italian and Northern Renaissance masters, known as ”Primitives” by British art historians. During their travels, however, she ruptured a blood vessel upon contracting tuberculosis and became physically disabled. Though she could no longer travel, she was still able to write. During her limited recovery, Callcott revisited her earlier interests in the 'Primitives' with Descriptions of the Chapel of the Annunziata dell’Arena published privately in 1835 with engravings of the chapel by her husband. In this publication, Callcott’s appreciation of the “Primitive” Italian art is noted to be one of the first works to mark a revival of interest in these early Italian painters as well as the first attempt to record them in the face of their deterioration. Within the same year, she published a children’s history book titled Little Arthur’s History of England. It became her most famous book and was reprinted in numerous editions.
Callcott, who was deemed physically unable to travel for extended periods of time, worked towards an ambitious project of writing the history of European art. As her health gradually deteriorated, she was unable to fully complete her goal but nonetheless, published two volumes of Essays towards the History of Painting in 1836 and 1838. She described the origins of painting in Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, and Chaldean civilizations, discussing materials and techniques, further highlighting her thorough historical research. Distinct from the ‘scholarly’ perspectives of accredited art historians and critics, her work instead served as a popular guide to art for women. Callcott’s published Essays were a small fragment of the work she intended, but her untimely death in 1842, hastened by her disability, prevented completion.
- [as Maria Graham]. Journal of a Residence in India. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1812;
- [as Maria Graham]. Letters on India. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1814.
- [as Maria Graham]. Memoirs of the Life of Nicholas Poussin.London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820;
- [as Maria Callcott]. Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of Rome: During the Year 1819. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1820.
- [as Lady Maria Callcott]. Description of the Chapel of the Annunziata dell' Arena, or Giotto's Chapel, in Padua. London: Privately printed for the author, by Thomas Brettell, Rupert Street, Haymarket, 1835;
- [as M. C.]. Little Arthur's History of England. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1835;
- [as Lady Maria Callcott]. Essays Towards the History of Painting. London: Edward Moxon,1836, 1838;
- Marchant, Anyda. “The Captain’s Widow: Maria Graham and the Independence of South America.” The Americas 20, no. 2 (1963): 127–42,
- Collier, Carly, and Caroline Palmer. “Discovering Ancient and Modern Primitives: The Travel Journals of Maria Callcott, 1827–28.” The Volume of the Walpole Society 78 (2016): i–353;
- Palmer, Caroline. "Maria, Lady Callcott (19 July 1785-21 November 1842)." 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century no. 28 (2019), Gale Academic OneFile (accessed November 17, 2022).