David Octavius Hill

David Octavius Hill
David Octavius Hill

The Scottish painter and arts activist David Octavius Hill (1802 – May 17, 1870) collaborated with the engineer and photographer Robert Adamson between 1843 and 1847 to pioneer many aspects of photography in Scotland.


Early life

Photograph from the frontispiece of an album dated 1848, showing D O Hill sketching in Greyfriars Kirkyard, watched by the Misses Morris. Other tableaux in the same setting included The Artist and The Gravedigger

David Octavius Hill was born in 1802 in Perth. His father, a bookseller and publisher, helped to re-establish Perth Academy and David was educated there as were his brothers. When his older brother Alexander joined the publishers Blackwood's in Edinburgh, David went there to study at the School of Design. He learnt lithography and produced Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire which was published as an album of views. His landscape paintings were shown in the Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland, and he was among the artists dissatisfied with the Institution who established a separate Scottish Academy in 1829 with the assistance of his close friend Henry Cockburn. A year later Hill took on unpaid secretarial duties. He sought commissions in book illustration, with four sketches being used to illustrate The Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway Prospectus in 1832, and went on to provide illustrations for editions of Walter Scott and Robert Burns. In 1836 the Royal Scottish Academy began to pay him a salary as secretary, and with this security he married his fiancée Ann Macdonald in the following year, but she was not strong and after the birth of their daughter she became an invalid. He continued to produce illustrations and to paint landscapes on commission.

Free Church of Scotland

The Disruption of 1843 was painted by Hill.
Clergymen who had been at the Assembly, photographed at Dumbarton Presbytery in 1845 as the basis for their portraits in the top left row of the painting.

Hill was present at the Disruption Assembly in 1843 when over 450 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland assembly and down to another assembly hall to found the Free Church of Scotland. He decided to record the dramatic scene with the encouragement of his friend Lord Cockburn and another spectator, the physicist Sir David Brewster who suggested using the new invention, photography, to get likenesses of all the ministers present. Brewster was himself experimenting with this technology which only dated back to 1839, and he introduced Hill to another enthusiast, Robert Adamson. Hill and Adamson took a series of photographs of those who had been present and of the setting. The 5 foot x 11 foot 4 inches (1.53m x 3.45m) painting was eventually completed in 1866.

Photography studio

Rock House

Their collaboration, with Hill providing skill in composition and lighting, and Adamson considerable sensitivity and dexterity in handling the camera, proved extremely successful, and they soon broadened their subject matter. Adamson's studio, "Rock House", on the Calton Hill in Edinburgh became the centre of their photographic experiments. Using the Calotype process, they produced a wide range of portraits depicting well-known Scottish luminaries of the time, including Hugh Miller, both in the studio and in outdoors settings, often amongst the elaborate tombs in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Fishwives in St Andrews bait their lines.
Newhaven fishergirls pose with a creel.

They photographed local and Fife landscapes and urban scenes, including images of the Scott Monument under construction in Edinburgh. As well as the great and the good, they photographed ordinary working folk, particularly the fishermen of Newhaven, and the fishwives who carried the fish in creels the 3 miles (5 km) uphill to the city of Edinburgh to sell them round the doors, with their cry of "Caller herrin" (fresh herring). They produced several groundbreaking "action" photographs of soldiers and - perhaps their most famous photograph - two priests walking side by side.

Their partnership produced around 3000 prints, but was cut short after only four years due to the ill health and untimely death of Adamson in 1848. The calotypes faded under sunlight, so had to be kept in albums, and though Hill continued the studio for some months, he became less active and abandoned the studio, though he continued to sell prints of the photographs and to use them as an aid for composing paintings. In 1862 he remarried, to the sculptress Amelia Paton, and around that time took up photography again, but the results were more static and less successful than his collaboration with Adamson. He was badly affected by the death of his daughter and his work slowed. In 1866 he finished the Disruption picture which received wide acclaim, though many of the participants had died by then. The photographer F.C. Annan produced fine reduced facsimiles of the painting for sale throughout the Free Church, and a group of subscribers raised £1,200 to purchase the painting for the church. In 1869 illness forced him to give up his post as secretary to the R.S.A., and he died in May 1870.

Bust on Hill's grave

Hill is buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh - one of the finest Victorian cemeteries in Scotland. He is portrayed in a bust sculpted by his second wife, Amelia R Paton, who lies buried alongside him.


  • Michaelson, Katherine, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, catalogue for Scottish Arts Council exhibitions, 1970.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • David Octavius Hill — Hill beim Zeichnen in Greyfriars Kirk …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • David Octavius Hill — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda David Octavius Hill David Octavius Hill fotógrafo y pintor escocés nacido en el año 1802 y muerto en 1870. Ha pasado a la historia por sus impresionantes calotipos de retratos fotográficos (modelos y tipos… …   Wikipedia Español

  • David Octavius Hill — (1802 17 mai 1870) est un photographe écossais qui travailla avec Robert Adamson, en produisant de très remarquables portraits par le procédé calotype …   Wikipédia en Français

  • David Octavius Hill — fotógrafo y pintor escocés nacido en el año 1802 y muerto en 1870. Ha pasado a la historia por sus impresionantes calotipos de retratos fotográficos (modelos y tipos callejeros), también cultivó otros géneros como el paisaje y los monumentos… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • David-Octavius-Hill-Medaille — Die David Octavius Hill Medaille, benannt nach dem schottischen Fotopionier des 19. Jahrhunderts David Octavius Hill, wird von der Deutschen Fotografischen Akademie alle drei Jahre verliehen. Sie ist gleichzeitig der Kunstpreis der Stadt… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • David Octavius Hill Medal — The David Octavius Hill Medal is a prize in photography established in 1955, by the Deutsche Fotografische Akademie. It is named in honor of the Scottish artist David Octavius Hill. Recipients 1955, Walter Hege, Carl Adolf Schleussner, Erich… …   Wikipedia

  • Médaille David Octavius Hill — La Médaille David Octivius Hill est une récompense photographique décernée depuis 1955 par la Deutsche Fotografische Akademie en l honneur du photographe David Octavius Hill. Lauréats 2005, Bernhard Prinz 2002, Alex Webb 1999, Dieter Appelt 1996 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Medalla David Octavius Hill — La Medalla David Octavius Hill es un premio de fotografía otorgado desde 1955 por la Deutsche Akademie Fotografische en honor del fotógrafo David Octavius Hill. Se concede cada tres años y el valor del premio es 5.000 Euros Premiados Esta es la… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Hill, David Octavius, and Robert Adamson — born 1802, Perth, Scot. died May 17, 1870, Newington born 1821, Berunside, Scot. died Jan. 1848, St. Andrews Scottish photographers. Hill, originally a painter, was a founding member of the Royal Scottish Academy and its secretary for 40 years.… …   Universalium

  • Hill, David Octavius y Robert Adamson — (1802, Perth, Escocia–17 may. 1870, Newington) (1821, Berunside, Escocia–ene. 1848, St. Andrews). Fotógrafos escoceses. Hill, que originalmente era pintor, miembro fundador de la Academia Real Escocesa y su secretario durante 40 años. En 1843… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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