- David Octavius Hill (1802 - 1870)
The partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson produced some of the finest photographic portraits of the 19th century at a time when photography was in its infancy. Hill was born in Perth and established himself as a fine landscape painter. By the age of 19 he had published a series of landscapes printed by a lithographic process. He was also a founder member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1826 and was the secretary of the RSA until his death. He was also involved in the creation of the National Gallery of Scotland in 1850.
But in 1843 he undertook to paint a composite of all the ministers who took part in the break-up of the Church of Scotland that year - the so called "Disruption". The ministers of what was now the "Free Church of Scotland" held their first General Assembly on the day of the break-up, with Thomas Chalmers> elected as Moderator. Since it was not feasible to have all the participants to sit for their portrait as had usually been the case till that time, he arranged with Robert Adamson to have photographs taken instead. Adamson was using a "Calotype" method which had been developed by Fox Talbot in England but the Talbot's patent did not apply in Scotland. The large painting which was produced, known as "The Signing of the Deed of Demission" showed a good likeness of the 474 participants at the momentous event - including the people looking in through the skylight windows! It took Hill over 20 years to complete it. See the graphic below which is a photo taken in the Museum of Scotland.
Having seen what photography could achieve, Hill continued to work with Adamson and began to produce portrait photographs of a number of the Edinburgh aristocracy. They also branched out into landscapes, fishermen in Newhaven in Fife and the soldiers in Edinburgh castle. In many cases these photographs were wonderful examples of composition and the use of light and shade which transformed them into worthy works of art - an astonishing achievement considering that they were working in the earliest days of the new medium. In under five years they produced 1,800 pictures, many of which can now be seen in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery> in Edinburgh. Suffering from ill health, Adamson was forced to retire in 1847, leaving Hill to carry on alone.
After Adamson's death in 1848 (at the age of only 27), Hill continued to produce photographs, but the quality was not quite as good as when he had been collaborating with his accomplished partner. Hill also returned to painting, mainly landscapes in oils and water colours, but his involvement in the RSA ate into the time he could devote to his work as an artist. He died in Newington, Edinburgh, on 17 May 1870.
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