David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson

The Sir Walter Scott Monument, Edinburgh [Edinburgh 11] (1845)

About this artwork

Between 1843 and 1845 Hill and Adamson charted the progress made on the construction of the Scott Monument, seen here from the east end of Princes Street in Edinburgh. This calotype of the completed monument shows it without Sir John Steell’s sculpture of Sir Walter Scott, as this was still being carved from marble imported from Italy. The first block was so heavy that it sank the ship. The second arrived in Leith in November 1844 and took twenty horses to drag it up the hill to the sculptor’s studio. When the monument was complete, reactions varied from disappointment to triumph and acclaim. The famous art critic John Ruskin called it ‘a small vulgar Gothic steeple’.

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David Octavius Hill

Robert Adamson

David Octavius Hill

A painter and a lithographer by training, David Octavius Hill is best remembered for the beauty of the calotypes he and Robert Adamson produced together. Hill was a sociable and kind-hearted man who did much to support the arts in Scotland and between 1830 and 1836 he was the unpaid Secretary of the newly established Royal Scottish Academy. After Adamson's death, Hill's attempt to start a new partnership with the photographer Alexander MacGlashan around 1860 failed. Hill is to this day revered as one of the first in the trade who transformed photography into an art form.

Robert Adamson

Robert Adamson was one of the first professional photographers, setting up in business in Edinburgh in March 1843. He had aspired to be an engineer but his health was too poor. His brother, John, who was involved in the early experiments with photography in St Andrews, taught him the calotype process. Shortly after opening his studio on Calton Hill, Robert met the painter David Octavius Hill. They worked together for a few weeks on studies for a grand painting of the Free Church of Scotland before entering into partnership to explore the possibilities of photography. Despite Adamson's early death, the two produced some of the most impressive works taken in the medium and greatly influenced later practice in the art.