link to Talbot Project home page link to De Montfort University home page link to Glasgow University home page
Project Director: Professor Larry J Schaaf

Back to the letter search >

Document number: 04898
Date: 28 Nov 1843
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BREWSTER David
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4929
Last updated: 17th April 2010

Dear Sir,

Your recent Packet of Calotypes, for which I beg to thank you, contains several most beautiful pictures. Dr Adamson <1> thinks that some of them are the best that have any where been executed, and I agree with him. The Inner view of University College <2>, and the Gate, when viewed with one Eye and strongly illuminated are almost cases of Transubstantiation. <3> No Daguerreotype picture, however sharp, can equal them.

I gave your letter, & the two Calotypes to Dr Adamson who has sent them to his brother <4> in Edinr, who will communicate with you on the subject of his Negatives.

I think your plan of publication excellent. The same Idea had occurred to Mr Hill <5> & Mr Adamson, who advertised it some time ago as a plan in contemplation.

Mr Adamson & Mr Hill put up all their Calotypes by Cutting off the black border, and attaching them to Bristol Board. <6> I have done this to several of yours, and find the effect much more agreeable than when the black border is retained. The effect is particularly good with dark pictures.

My reason for wishing the Calotype process to be sufficiently sensitive when the Sitter is illuminated by Gas, <7> is that during 8 months of the year sitting in the open air is very inconvenient and disagreeable, and while a strong light distorts the pictures and gives an odious expression, the flowing hair, & the loose portions of female drapery can never be sharply depicted. –

I have been very much struck with the different Calotypes of the same person. In many of them, where the Sitter was steady – the family likeness is scarcely preserved.* Does this arise from the Camera? I have seen among Mr Adamsons Calotypes pictures of Men & Women in one of which the Sitter was decidedly good looking and in the other hideous. There is something yet to be done in reference to this point.

Believe me to be Dear Sir Ever Most Truly yrs
D Brewster

St Leonards' College
Novr 28th 1843

*Compare the Enclosed one of myself with those Taken by you


1. Dr John Adamson (1809–1870), physician and pioneer of photography. See A. D. Morrison-Low, ‘Dr John Adamson and Robert Adamson: An Early Partnership in Scottish Photography’, The Photographic Collector, v. 2, 1983, pp. 198–214.

2. Probably the view of the Radcliffe quadrangle University College, Oxford. See Graham Smith, Disciples of Light: Photographs in the Brewster Album (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1990). See also Doc. No: 04897 for reference to WHFT’s Oxford images.

3. The changing of one substance into another – a compliment to the lifelike qualities of the Calotypes.

4. Robert Adamson (1821–1848). His professional partnership with the painter David Octavius Hill (1802–1870), Scottish painter & photographer, which began in May 1843 because of Hill’s desire to record the momentous Disruption of the Church of Scotland, established – at the dawn of photography – the art of photographic portraiture at the highest level. It was Brewster who introduced the photographer to the painter [see Doc. No: 04839]. See Sara Stevenson, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1981), and The Personal Art of David Octavius Hill ( New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2002). Unfortunately no letter from him to WHFT appears to have survived.

5. David Octavius Hill (1802–1870), Scottish painter & photographer.

6. A kind of pasteboard with a smooth surface.

7. See Doc. No: 04897.