About this artwork

This calotype portrait by Hill and Adamson bears a strong resemblance to a portrait of Duncan by Robert Scott Lauder, painted around 1839. The artist Thomas Duncan was born at Kinclaven and educated at Perth Academy, together with lifelong friend David Octavius Hill. In 1827 Duncan enrolled at the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh, where he studied under William Allan. The following year he exhibited at the (Royal) Scottish Academy and, due to the success of his work, was elected a full member in 1829. Duncan established a significant portrait studio, but he is better known for his narrative works inspired by Scottish history and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. From 1838 until his untimely death in 1845 Duncan worked as a professor at the Trustees’ Academy.

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.