Sir David Brewster
Sir David Brewster
by David Octavius Hill, and Robert Adamson
7 5/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (194 mm x 149 mm)
Given by an anonymous donor, 1973
Sitterback to top
- Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), Natural philosopher and academic administrator. Sitter in 18 portraits.
Artistsback to top
This portraitback to top
The Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster was a founder member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1831) and a key figure in the early history of photography in Britain. Much of his own experimental work was devoted to optics - he invented the kaleidoscope and the lenticular stereoscope - and was the close correspondent of Fox Talbot, the inventor of the negative/positive process of photography. It was Brewster who persuaded Robert Adamson to make a career of calotype photography and who introduced him to the painter David Octavius Hill. Together the two men created some of the most enduring images in the history of photography. They photographed Brewster posed as if absorbed in his reading.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 21 Read entry
The Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster was a founder member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1831), and a key figure in the early history of photography in Britain. Much of his own experimental work was devoted to optics – he invented the kaleidoscope (1816) and the lenticular stereoscope – and he was a close correspondent of Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype, who wrote explaining the process to him in May 1841.
It was Brewster who persuaded Robert Adamson to make a profession of calotype photography, and who introduced him to the painter D. O. Hill, with whom he worked in partnership from a studio in Edinburgh until 1847. In their photographs, ‘executed by R. Adamson under the artistic direction of D. O. Hill’, Adamson’s scientific technique is transformed by Hill’s aesthetic sensibility. The Gallery owns three albums of their finest work, presented by Hill to the Royal Academy in 1863, and given to the Gallery by an anonymous benefactor in 1973. They contain 238 prints, covering the whole range of Hill and Adamson’s work: portraits, studies of fishermen and fishwives, topographical and genre scenes.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 75
Portrait setback to top
Events of 1843back to top
Current affairsSir Henry Cole commissions 1,000 copies of the first Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley. Cole would later be instrumental in staging the Great Exhibition, and in developing science and art education in Britain.
Nelson's statue, by E.H. Bailey, is placed on top of its column in Trafalgar Square.
Art and scienceThe Theatre Regulations Act is passed, abolishing the privileged position of the 'major' theatres which held letters patent from the crown, allowing all theatres to perform 'legitimate' theatre.
First volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters published, praising Turner and demanding that artists should demonstrate 'truth to nature' in their work. Ruskin is a great inspiration to the Pre-Raphaelites.
InternationalThe first experimental telegraph wire is constructed between Baltimore and Washington, using Morse code to send a message. The code, in which pulses of current deflect an electromagnet, moving a marker and producing written codes on a strip of paper, had been invented by Samuel Morse in 1838. The line officially opens in 1844.
Watch our playlist exploring scientific techniques used by the Gallery to unlock the secrets behind our Tudor portraits.
Subjects and themes
Search the collection by themes - from pets to weddings!
Black History Month
Take a tour exploring our Collection created by Alayo Akinkugbe for Black History Month in 2020.
A Picture of Health
Learn about pioneers in medicine, health and social reform from 1840 to 1920.
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.