David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson

Rev. Thomas Chalmers, 1780 - 1847. Preacher and social reformer (shown preaching) [b] (1843)

About this artwork

Thomas Chalmers, known for his radical views on social reform and poor-relief, was the leader of the evangelical party in the Church of Scotland. During the Disruption in 1843 he led the group of dissenting ministers, becoming the first Moderator of the Free Church. The emotion and excitement of the Disruption caused David Octavius Hill to start work on a large-scale painting commemorating the event, which he eventually finished twenty-three years later. Hill and his partner Robert Adamson took hundreds of the newly invented calotypes to create faithful likenesses of the 400 people in the painting. Although Chalmers's calotype was taken for this purpose, this particular pose only appears in an early design for the painting and does not feature in the finished work.

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.