David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson: Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake 1845

David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson: Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake 1845

Elizabeth Rigby was a talented writer and art critic. She met David Octavius Hill in Edinburgh around 1842, and, with Robert Adamson helping him with the calotypes, Hill made several portraits of this attractive and intelligent 33-rear old woman. Elizabeth went on to marry Charles Eastlake (in 1849) and seven years later became one of the first critics to write an article about Art and Photography, providing an accurate summary of the invention and early development of the new medium.

1845_Octavius-Hill-Elizabeth-Lady-Eastlake_c 1847_Octavius-Hill_Lady-Elizabeth-Eastlake_c

As a talented painter, Octavius Hill preferred the soft and subtle, painterly tones of the calotype over the sharp and metallic precision of the Daguerreotype. His portraits of Elizabeth Rigby reveal an attractive woman, reflective and tasteful, even fashionable. The paper negative of Fox Talbot’s calotype process makes for an impressionistic soft-focus image, with the classic statuary and gothic screen hinting at the two dominant art movements of the period. Rigby has her eyes cast down reflectively – a neat way of avoiding the blurred or fuzzy effect of blinking during a long exposure.

In 1857 Elizabeth, then Lady Eastlake, wrote On Photography what is probably the first historical account of the birth of photography. It was published as a long article in the London Quarterly Review, and is available online as a pdf at http://www.photokaboom.com/photography/pdfs/Lady_Eastlake.pdf

On Photography traces the history of the technology back to the 1770s and the discovery of the effect of light upon silver nitrate, and includes the experiments of Wedgwood and Sir Humphry Davy in the 1790s:

“In conjunction with Mr. Thomas Wedgwood, only less eminent than his brother Josiah, Sir Humphry succeeded, by means of a camera obscura, in obtaining images upon paper, or white leather prepared with nitrate of silver–of which proceeding he has left the most interesting record in the Journal of the Royal Society  for June, 1802.”

Elizabeth, Lady Eastlake: On Photography, London Quarterly Review 1857


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