About this artwork

The mixture of steamboats and sailing ships in this picture gives us a good idea of the thriving trade in Leith during the nineteenth century. Wilson ably recorded the vitality and prosperity of the place in a series of photographs after it was considerably enlarged in the middle of the century. A generous empty space in the foreground puts us right out to sea with the steamboat in the far ground. The silhouettes of the masts thrust up into the sky and the thick dark smoke drifting across are a further demonstration of Wilson's talent for spotting good compositions and shooting contre-jour.

George Washington Wilson

George Washington Wilson

A hugely successful businessman, George Washington Wilson had left home at twelve to be a carpenter and subsequently trained as a portrait painter before turning to photography in 1853. By the 1860s he owned printing works in Aberdeen that produced thousands of prints with views from all over Britain every year. Later his catalogue grew to include pictures from the Continent and the rest of the world. One of his first clients was Prince Albert who asked him to photograph the rebuilding of Balmoral Castle. Queen Victoria continued to commission work from Wilson after her husband's death.