Hill – David Octavius Hill RSA (1802-70)

David Octavius Hill was best known as a pioneer in the development of photography in Scotland, as an important arts administrator and as a practising painter, David Octavius Hill is probably Perthshire’s most famous artist. He was born in Perth (20 May 1802) and died in Edinburgh (17 May 1870)

David’s birth and early years

  • David Octavius Hill was born in Perth on Thursday 20 May 1802
  • David’s parents were Thomas Hill a bookseller and stationer and Amelia Murray
  • David was their eighth child (hence his middle name “Octavius”)
  • Of all David’s siblings, it was his immediate elder brother, Alexander (1800-1866) Scotland’s most successful fine art publisher in the 19th century, whom David would remain closest to throughout his life
  • David was educated at Perth Academy under the landscapist David Junor (1773-1835) who also taught David’s friends and fellow artists Thomas Duncan RSA ARA (1807-45) and John Mclaren Barclay RSA (1811-86)

Student in Edinburgh

  • David moved to Edinburgh to study art at the Trustees Academy in November 1818
  • David’s master was Andrew Wilson (1780-1848) a competent landscapist whose treatment of the natural environment proved a significant influence

Sketches of scenery in Perthshire

  • David produced 30 landscape views of Perthshire landscape using the relatively new print medium of lithography between 1821 and 1823
  • David’s 30 views were published in 6 parts each comprising 5 pictures
  • David’s father, Thomas, was the publisher. Thomas’s shop was at 23 George Street, Perth (within sight of the present Perth Museum and Art Gallery which at that time was just the Marshall Monument, then under construction)
  • David’s lithographs were printed by John Robertson (active c.1820-28) in Edinburgh and, latterly, by Charles Joseph Hullmandel (1789-1850) in London
  • David’s lithographs were titled Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire
  • As the work of the nineteen-year old David, Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire is a bold statement of a precocious talent
  • As a suite of lithographic views of Scottish topography the Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire holds the distinction of being the earliest
  • As a pioneering venture between a provincial youth, his bookseller father and the earliest Edinburgh based lithographic printer the Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire is of lasting interest

David ‘s parents

  • Thomas Hill was, variously, a bookbinder, stationer, music seller and bookseller. His date and place of birth have not yet been established. He appears in the Perth Cess Rolls for George Street from 1798 until 1823 and turns up in them for Watergate also. He was, alongside David Morison (junior) and Charles Graham Sidey, amongst the principal booksellers in Perth by the 1820s
  • Thomas does not appear to have owned the property at  23 George Street, and when he left Perth for Edinburgh in May 1824 the premises were taken over by his neighbour and fellow bookseller, James Dewar (who went on to become Provost of Perth between 1850 and 1855)
  • Thomas married Amelia Murray the daughter of a Perth Tailor at Brechin on 16 March 1793
  • Thomas and Amelia had a family of 12, including 1 child still born, one daughter and one set of twins
  • Of Thomas and Amelia’s 12 children 7 did not survive infancy

Landscape painter

  • David was settled in Edinburgh, where he would spend the rest of his life, and began to exhibit his work
  • David first exhibited his paintings in 1821 when he showed 3 Perthshire landscapes at the Royal Institution Exhibition in Edinburgh. He was to remain faithful to his career, producing and exhibiting paintings throughout his life, despite the increasing demands on his time which were to be imposed through his work with the fledgling Scottish Academy. Between 1821 and 1870 remarkably he failed to exhibit only in 1823 and 1829
  • David’s earliest works were of Perthshire landscapes

Illustrator of Scott and Burns

  • David then became fascinated with views of places featured in the life and works of Robert Burns (1759-96) at a time when Sir Walter Scott was the source of  inspiration for most of his artistic contemporaries
  • David produced a number of illustrations for Scott’s Waverley Novels which were published by Robert Cadell between 1829-33, but these constitute a fraction of his total artistic output. They are significantly outnumbered by his exertions in the wake of Burns
  • David had begun work on this project by at least 1834 and by 1840 had painted no fewer than 61 works. These were engraved by some of the most skilled engravers of the period and published by Blackie and Co as The Land of Burns (in 2 volumes)
  • David’s original intention had been to have the original paintings housed permanently in a gallery devoted to the poet, but the plan fell through.
  • David’s brother Alexander exhibited the works, at his premises in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Unfortunately the majority of them were subsequently destroyed by fire, though some survive including at least 3 in Scottish Public collections (Kilmarnock Cross, Dick Institute, Kilmarnock; Feu de Joie at Taymouth Castle, Perth Museum and Art Gallery and Tam O’Shanter’s Grave, Kelvingrove)
  • David’s illustrations for The Land of Burns were immensely popular in their own day, and some of them were republished in 1896 to commemorate the Bi-centenary of Burns’ death

The Royal Scottish Academy

  • David was one of a group of 24 artists who walked out of the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in 1826 to set up a new Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture
  • David returned to the Institution with 8 others following the inaugural meeting of the new body
  • David finally joined the new Scottish Academy as an Academician in 1829
  • David was elected Secretary of the Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1830 and served with great diligence and success in this capacity until ill health forced him to retire in 1869
  • David was largely responsible for securing the Royal Charter for the Academy in 1838 which saw it renamed the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture
  • David’s elder brother, Alexander, was appointed official stationer and publisher to the Academy and was supplier of art materials to many of its members

Photography

  • David is now best known for his pioneering work in the development of photography as a medium of artistic expression in Scotland
  • David never regarded himself as a photographer however, and in his lifetime exhibited his calotypes only 3 times
  • David’s partner in this episode of his life was a young St Andrews chemist Dr Robert Adamson (1821-48)
  • David turned to the new medium of photography to assist him in his largest and most ambitious painting, The Signing of the Deed of Demission
  • David’s huge painting contains a huge number of portraits of ministers and others, himself included, who witnessed or were involved in the so-called Disruption of 1843 when many Ministers and followers broke away from the Established Church of Scotland and established the Free Church of Scotland
  • David and Robert Adamson took individual and group photographs (calotypes) of those involved which David then used as “sketches” on which to base the final painting
  • David took 23 years to complete the Disruption painting (1843-66)

Marriage, fatherhood and death

  • David was married twice
  • David’s first marriage was to Ann McDonald (1804-41) of Perth in 1837. Ann died of consumption in 1841 and her headstone can be seen in Greyfriars burial ground in Perth
  • David and Ann had 2 children, both daughters
  • David and Ann’s youngest child died within hours of her birth in 1840
  • David and Ann’s elder child, Charlotte was born in 1839 married in 1861 and died 1862
  • David married his second wife, Amelia Robertson Paton (1821-1904) the sculptress sister of his long time friend Sir Joseph Noel Paton in 1862
  • David died at his home, Newington Lodge in Edinburgh, on 17 May 1870
  • David is buried in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh, adjacent to the Dean Gallery
  • David’s headstone is topped by a bronze cast of the characterful portrait head of him by his second wife Amelia

Find out more about David Octavius Hill

Copies of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery 2002 Exhibition booklet, The Remarkable Mr Hill (ISBN 0-907495-20-6) are available from Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

The most recent monograph on Hill is The Personal Art of David Octavius Hill by Sara Stevenson, published by Yale University Press, 2002 (ISBN 0-300-09534-1)

Works by David Octavius Hill in Perth Museum and Art Gallery

(It is not possible to have the entire collection on show at any one time. To view any material not on display please contact the Art Section to make an appointment)

Oil paintings

Title Type Date
Feu de Joie at Taymouth Castle Oil painting about 1834-40
Perth From Boatlands Oil painting 1826
Portrait of the Artist’s Father Oil painting undated (about 1825)

Watercolours

Title Type Date
The Fair City Watercolour undated (about 1825/6)

Drawings

Title Type Date
Charlotte Hill Drawing 1855
Unidentified lady Drawing 1849
Granny Anderson Drawing 1849
From Kinnoull Hill Looking West into Sunset Drawing 1837
Perth from the South Drawing undated
An unidentified Scottish castle Drawing undated
Dumbarton Castle Drawing undated

Prints

Title Type Date
Edinburgh Old and New from the Half Moon Battery Print Published A Hill, 1857
The Deed of Demission Print Photogravure by Annan signed by David Octavius Hill

The Waverley Novels

Title Date
Fair Maid of Perth : “A lute” said the Duke…” 1832
Fair Maid of Perth : “He beheld, stretched beneath him….” 1832
The Abbot : “Lindesay was silent…” 1832

Sketches of scenery in Perthshire

  • Scone Palace (part 1, plate 1)
  • Bridge of Earn (part 1, plate 2)
  • Dunkeld (part 1, plate 3)
  • Dunblane Cathedral (part 1, plate 4)
  • Perth from Kinnoull Church (part 1, plate 5)
  • Fall on the Turret near Ochtertyre (part 2, plate 1)
  • Kenmore (part 2, plate 2)
  • Killin (part 2, plate 3)
  • View on the Tay, Elcho Castle, Kinnoull Cliff, Seggieden (part 2, plate 4)
  • Strathearn near Comrie (part 2, plate 5)
  • Taymouth Castle (part 3, plate 1)
  • Grandtully Castle (part 3, plate 2)
  • Killin from the Macnab’s Burying Ground (part 3, plate 3)
  • Perth from the South (part 3, plate 4)
  • Falls of Moness (part 3, plate 5)
  • Loch Tummel (part 4, plate 1)
  • Fall of Tummel (part 4, plate 2)
  • Upper Fall of Bruar (part 4, plate 3)
  • The Vale of Atholl from the Vale of Atholl Farm of St Columba (part 4, plate 4)
  • The Pass of Killiecrankie (part 4, plate 5)
  • Athol House (part 5)
  • View on the Tummel with Faskally (part 5)
  • Castle Campbell (part 5)
  • Perth, seen from Barnhill (part 5)
  • Vale of the Garry, Atholl, scene of the Battle of Killiecrankie (part 5)
  • Ochtertyre (part 6)
  • The River Tay from the Western Part of Kinnoull Cliff (part 6)
  • Murthly Castle (part 6)
  • Doune Castle (part 6)
  • Craig Hall (part 6)

Views on the opening of the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway

  • Bound volume (published A Hill, 1832)
  • View at St Rollox Looking South East (loose plate)
  • View of the Germiston Embankment Looking West (loose plate)
  • View of the Depot Looking South (loose plate)
  • View near Proven Mill Bridge Looking West (loose plate)

Tales of the Ettrick Shepherd by James Hogg

  • 6 volumes each with front and title page illustrations by Hill (1836)

The Land of Burns (1840)

  • View of Market Steeple, Dumfries (trial proof with Hill’s annotations to his engraver, 1837)

The Land of Burns (from the 1896 re-issue)

  • Ayr Market Cross
  • Kirkoswald and Tam O’Shanter’s Grave
  • Kilmarnock, Market Cross
  • Dumfries
  • Barskimming on the Ayr
  • Burns’ Cottage
  • Jedburgh
  • Tarbolton, Procession of St. James’ Lodge
  • Loch Turret

Calotypes

  • D. O. Hill, artist (1802-70)
  • Thomas Duncan, artist (1807-45)
  • Francis Grant, artist (1803-78)
  • Thomas and James Duncan, artist and musician brothers
  • Mark Napier, advocate & history writer (1798-1879)
  • Lord Patrick Robertson (1794-1855)
  • Professor John Wilson (aka Christopher North) (1785-1854)
  • Unknown Man
  • Principal Robert Haldane (1772-1854)
  • Sir Francis Napier, 12th Lord Napier, diplomat (1819-1898)
  • John Gibson Lockhart, biographer (1794-1854)
  • John Gibson Lockhart, biographer (1794-1854)
  • John Gibson Lockhart, biographer (1794-1854)
  • John Henning, sculptor (1771-1851)
  • Professor Campbell Fraser (1819-1914)
  • Bound volume by A Elliot (1928)

Sculpture (associated)

  • Portrait head of D. O. Hill (Plaster cast by Amelia Robertson Paton)

Please help support us

We are incredibly grateful to all our donors, supporters and sponsors.

Donate