Lady Ruthven Hill, David Octavious  (Scottish, 1802-1870)Adamson, Robert  (Scottish, 1821-1848)

This sensuous image of Lady Ruthven (1789-1885) is one of Hill and Adamson’s finest portraits. Standing with her back to the camera, her head slightly turned to the side to reveal the nape of her neck, she is reminiscent of women in paintings by Jean Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). The original print of this image dates from 1847 and from 1847 and was one of the last that Hill and Adamson made together. In a letter Hill wrote to Lady Ruthven in late Decernber of that year, he seems disillusioned and near to giving up photography. Sadly, the partnership did come to an end shortly thereafter when Robert Adamson died, most likely of tuberculosis. In 1905 Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) published in Camera Work, the journal of the Photo-Secessionist movement, photogravures by James Craig Annan of Hill and Adamson’s calotypes. Annan, who had begun making finely crafted copies of the duo’s work in the 1890s, recognized and appreciated the beauty of the early pictures. He singled out Hill as the creative force behind the photographs, effectively reducing Adamson’s role within the alliance. Nevertheless, Annan’s efforts served to introduce the work of these two nineteeth-century pioneers to a twentieth-century audience. (In Focus: Hill and Adamson, The Getty p.100)

Lady Mary Ruthven (1789-1885), was the wife of Lord Ruthven and a friend of Sir Walter Scott. The vast majority of Hill and Adamson photographs show the ministers of the Free Church, notable residents of Edinburgh and distinguished visitors, or the hardy fisherfolk of Newhaven and Saint Andrews. On occasion, particularly in their portraits of the ministers-sober and all dressed alike-Hill and Adamson fell into formulaic patterns based on academic portrait painting. But there is no doubt that they were among the medium’s most gifted portraitists, and one need only look at works such as this mysterious portrait of Lady Ruthven-reminiscent of Victorian fashion plates-to understand that Hill and Adamson possessed not only a profound human sensitivity but also a creative and sophisticated formal sensibility. (source: MET)

Both Thomas and his son James Craig Annan had learned the photogravure process directly from Klíč in Vienna in 1883. Klíč sold the British rights to his process to the Annans. The Annans were responsible for a renewed interest in the work of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson when they used their plates to make photogravures that appeared in Camera Work in 1905, 1909, and 1912. In a letter to Paul Strand, Stieglitz mentioned these photogravures, reminding Strand that they were “not reproductions, but photogravures, as permanent as a Dürer or Rembrandt etching” (13 December 1931, Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O’Keeffe Archive, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven) from NGA website

Reproduced / Exhibited

Doty, Robert M. Photo-secession: Photography As a Fine Art. N.Y: Eastman, 1960. p. 12.

Peterson, Christian A. Camera Work: Process & Image : [exhibition, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, August 31-November 3, 1985, Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, November 22, 1985-February 2, 1986]. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of arts, 1985. p. 59.

Anna Tellgren, Another Story, Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection, Steidl, 2001, fig 239

De Andere Fotografie de Geschiedenis van de Fotomechanische Reproductie in de Negentiende Eeuw: tentoonstelling in het Zeeuws Museum Middelburg 1989 (The Other Photography the History of Photomechanical Reproduction in the Nineteenth Century: Exhibition in the Zeeuws Museum Middelburg 1989) Exhibited chk