Robert Adamson & David Octavius Hill

Marion Finlay, Mrs Margaret (Dryburgh) Lyall and Mrs Grace (Finlay) Ramsay. Called 'The Letter'

About this artwork

‘The Letter’ is one of about 120 calotypes by Hill and Adamson of the fishing port of Newhaven, to the north of Edinburgh. Carefully arranged and all taken out of doors, these photographs explore the life, work and social structure of this small but independent community. This particular one shows three fishwives examining a letter, a familiar theme in art that was often used by seventeenth-century Dutch painters. The letter effectively focuses the attention of the women, whilst leaving us to speculate about its content and sender. At the time, the new penny post enabled the literate working classes to communicate properly across distance for the first time, a matter of great importance to the fishwives whose men often faced dangerous situations at sea.

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Robert Adamson

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.