About this artwork

The natural harbour of Leith, formed by the Water of Leith entering the Firth of Forth, had been used for centuries before undergoing rapid expansion during the nineteenth century. This photograph shows one of Leith’s old Wet Docks – an enclosed area of water used for loading, unloading and repairing ships. Among the traditional sailing vessels appear the chimneys of several modern steam boats. Like the masts, the industrial chimneys in the background contrast sharply with the sky and present another clue to the modern times of the scene. The photographer, George Washington Wilson, originally trained as an artist and had a good eye for composition. In this photograph, the way the camera has cropped and framed the image is an important part of the composition itself.

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.