David Octavius Hill
b. 1802; d. 17 May 1870
David Octavius Hill devoted most of his life to improving the arts in Scotland. He published the first lithographic view of Scotland in “Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire” (1821), and also produced lithographs for “The Works of Robert Burns.” He was a portrait painter, and once Secretary of the Scottish Academy of painting, an Academy which he himself had established.
In 1843 a major upheaval in the Church of Scotland took place, resulting in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. Its first meeting took place in May that year, and was considered sufficiently momentous to have the event commemorated in a painting. The task was quite formidable, as there were four hundred and seventy people present, and it was intended that each of these people should be present in the painting. Sketching each person individually would have been a colossal task. A much respected scientist of the day, Sir David Brewster, saw in the newly invented calotype process the solution, and suggested that Hill, who was secretary of the Scottish Academy, go into partnership with a chemist, Robert Adamson.
To this end Hill and Adamson took individual portraits of the clerics. The painting, which took twenty-three years to complete, is in the Hall of the Presbytery, Edinburgh, but the photograph is the more remembered. Hill was paid £1500 for the task. The painting is very large, measuring 12ft x 4ft 8ins.
Hill and Adamson’s pictures are all calotypes. One of them has, on the reverse, “Sol fecit” (the sun made it.)
In 1847 Robert Adamson died, aged only 27, and Hill gave up photography and returned to painting. The short partnership is all the more remarkable for the large output; in the four years more than 1500 calotypes had been produced. The Hill and Adamson photographs are much valued today, whilst Hill’s paintings are ignored and forgotten.