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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

David Octavius Hill
Scottish, 1802–1870
Robert Adamson
Scottish, 1821–1848

Portrait of a Woman

Salt print from waxed paper negative, about 1845
Frederick B. and Kate L. Shoemaker Fund, 1989.8

From photography’s earliest days, many practitioners championed the medium’s acceptance as an art form, often battling the art establishment in the process. David O. Hill and Robert Adamson were among the first to explore the artistic possibilities of the new medium—they made their first photograph in 1843, just four years after the invention of photography. Adamson was skilled at the technical aspect, and Hill had trained as a painter and printmaker, giving him an artist’s eye for lighting and composition.
Hill owned engravings after the 18th-century artist Antoine Watteau, who created many images that presented a figure from the back—perhaps inspiration for this remarkable portrait. Its soft, grainy texture focuses on the elegance of the woman’s neck, the intricacy of her hairstyle, and the folds of her dress, rather than on her face. Although the identity of the sitter has not been identified, it has been suggested that she is Lady Mary (Baillie) Haddo, wife of John James Hamilton Gordon, 5th earl of Aberdeen.