David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson

Sir John Steell, 1804 - 1891. Sculptor [a] (About 1845)

About this artwork

One of Hill and Adamson's most effective portraits is that of the sculptor Sir John Steell, who is best known for his statue of Sir Walter Scott for the Scott Monument in Edinburgh. This portrait of Steell is remarkable for its strength and simplicity and could serve as a model of Romantic practice in photography. The body of the sculptor appears as a dark, undefined shape. His right hand, indicated by an edge of white cuff, is sunk in his coat, suggesting depth. His head and other hand are supported on an off-centre diagonal. The vague, mottled background reinforces the 'romantic' effect. This image is one of several calotype prints from the same negative and was gifted by the Edinburgh Photographic Society.

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.