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The Hill CollectionGreat architecture is eternal. A great architectural photograph can capture that spirit and sense of timelessness. Monumental, breathtaking, and memorable.The passion and excitement that I have associated with collecting and studying nineteenth century architectural photographs has proven to be intellectually stimulating, emotionally gratifying, and yet sometimes puzzling. The ease with which one can find a diverse range of architectural images has, with the recent phenomenon of computer technology and internet auction sources, now made it possible for me to assemble a collection of over 1,000 photographs from the mid-nineteenth century. Nearly 90% of the images in the collection are albumen prints taken from wet collodion or dry collodion glass plate negatives. This process dominated the production of photographic prints from 1853 until about 1885. Virtually all of the images in the collection are 8"x10" or larger.
Architectural Photography in the 19th Century
From the inception of this collection, it‘s objective has been to shed light on the new invention of photography in the mid-19th Century and to understand its role in the promotion and dissemination of architectural ideas.
By applying a discerning eye toward subject matter, architectural composition, condition, provenance and overall aesthetic appeal, many of the images in the collection have been obtained from a diversity of sources including art fairs, private dealers, internet auction sites, collectors, and even flea markets. The premise behind the selection of many of these photographs has been that they are inherently works of art in themselves, and capture on paper (often for the first time) a view of a building or an architectural detail recorded with remarkable accuracy and subtlety. They simply have no equivalent in the world of painting. Following the birth of photography in 1839, the prolific output of European photographers after 1850 is a phenomenon with no precedent in the realm of art history.
The images in the collection include works by some of the leading masters of 19th Century architectural photography such as the Alinari Brothers, Gioacchino Altobelli, James Anderson, Edouard Baldus,Antoine Beato, Henri Bechard, Francis Bedford, Auguste R. Bisson, Felix Bonfils, Samuel Bourne, Adolphe Braun, Domenico Bresolin, Giacomo Brogi, Charles Clifford, Pietro Dovizielli, Roger Fenton, Francis Frith, Juan Laurent, Robert Macpherson, Charles Marville, Carlo Naya, Etienne Neurdien (ND), Antonio Perini, Carlo Ponti, Pompeo Pozzi, Achille Quinet, James Robertson, Pascal Sebah, Giorgio Sommer, Charles Soulier, James Valentine, George W. Wilson and others.
In addition, discoveries of works by lesser known (but no less talented) photographers have shed light on overlooked practitioners who may soon take their rightful place in this field of collecting that is still in its infancy.
These include prints by the Abdullah Brothers, Edmondo Behles, Peter Bergheim, P.E. del Camino, Benjamino Coen, Auguste H. Collard, Tommaso Cuccioni, Lala Deen Dayal, Tancrede Dumas, Robert French, Frank Mason Good, Giuseppe Incorpora, Leon & Levy, Paolo Lombardi, Maurizio Lotze, Michel Mang, Mederic Mieusement, Giuseppe Ninci, Alfredo Noack, Roberto Peli, Pietro Poppi, Carlo Simelli, Enrico Van Lint, and the Zangaki Brothers.
Many of the photographs in the collection are unique and significant, and can be studied as historical documents in themselves for their relationship to, and influence upon, architecture and design. The creative imagination of the photographer can also be studied by comparing views in the collection showing the same building interpreted by different photographers working ten or twenty years apart as they employ increasingly sophisticated cameras and new collodion processes to develop their glass plate negatives.
These images are not merely products of the camera, but rather the work of a photographer’s mind and his discerning eye for a memorable composition, for the play of light and shadow, and for his ability to frame an urban view that reveals much about the character of architectural landmarks in cities and towns in the 19th Century.
The excitement of discovering and acquiring an authentic print by a talented photographer has proven to be a rewarding experience for me. In many cases the images themselves have become the vehicle which I have used to learn about the building, its history and architectural style, and the intent of the architect in shaping the mass and form of the façade, in developing the silhouette of a tower, in configuring the opening of a window, the profile of a doorway, or the volume of a building element.
Robert G. Hill
Biography of the Collector
Robert G. Hill is a professional architect, architectural historian and architectural photographer. Born in Toronto, he was educated there and holds honour degrees in architecture from both Ryerson Polytechnical University (Toronto) and the University of Toronto. He trained in New York City, London and in Ottawa, and now works in Toronto. The Hill Collection was begun in 1990 and now includes over 1,000 examples of architectural photographs dating from 1853 to 1890. Prints are available for loan or exhibition to galleries and museums in North America and Europe.