The J. Paul Getty Museum

Miss Thomson of St. Andrews

Object Details


Miss Thomson of St. Andrews


Dr. John Adamson (Scottish, 1810 - 1870)




Scotland (Place Created)


about 1845


Salted paper print from a paper negative

Object Number:



19.8 × 14.3 cm (7 13/16 × 5 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

Although the chief discoveries that led to photography were made within a hundred-mile radius of either London or Paris, the British and French capitals were not the exclusive domains of significant innovation. Sir John Herschel introduced William Henry Fox Talbot to David Brewster, who was one of Scotland's most renowned scientists of the early nineteenth century. Talbot and Brewster became fast friends. Talbot shared details of his work that Brewster in turn communicated to his circle in the St. Andrews Literary and Historical Society. Among them was John Adamson, a physician with no apparent training in art who nonetheless created two masterful works of early photography. (84.XZ.574.173)

One of them, Miss Thompson of St. Andrews, was made before there was such a thing in Scotland as a studio designed specifically for making photographs. To gain adequate light, Adamson posed the young woman outdoors. She is wearing an elegant dress, seated in a chair with her right elbow resting on a stand and with her hand to her chin, while the other hand gracefully touches the table's edge. On the table are a bouquet and an open book. Behind her is a dark, tent-like cloth, and underfoot is a wrinkled oriental carpet. Her eye sockets become broad almond shapes drawn by the deep shadows, adding a disquieting element to the freshness of the improvised setting. Adamson achieves a psychological tension absent in most of Talbot's work.
Adapted from Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 20. © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Experimental Photography: Discovery and Invention (January 17 to April 2, 1989)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), January 17 to April 2, 1989
Arrows of Time: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (January 24 to April 2, 1995)
  • Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at UCLA (Los Angeles), January 24 to April 2, 1995