David Octavius Hill (British, Perth, Scotland 1802–1870 Edinburgh, Scotland)
Robert Adamson (British, St. Andrews, Scotland 1821–1848 St. Andrews, Scotland)
Salted paper print from paper negative
Image: 19.7 x 14.6 cm (7 3/4 x 5 3/4 in.) Mount: 14 3/4 in. × 10 3/8 in. (37.4 × 26.3 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
Not on view
In this cleverly staged scenario, Hill (seated) appears to be suffering the effects of a hangover. Holding the artist’s hand and fixing him with a disapproving look is his friend James Miller, a temperance reformer and professor of surgery at Edinburgh University. The Roman bust between them—by Hill’s friend John Stevens—seems to be turning away from the artist in disgust. The title of the photograph is a pun based on the epitaph on Phaethon’s tomb from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: “Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god’s chariot fared. And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared.” In Greek mythology, Zeus struck down Apollo’s son Phaethon after he lost control of his father’s chariot. Hill may have recognized himself in the doomed figure of Phaethon as he attempted to harness and control the power of the sun to create his photographs.
Inscription: [no inscriptions or annotations visible]
[Paul Katz, Bennington, VT]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, August 20, 1979
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 66," October 6, 2014–February 9, 2015.
Ford, Colin, ed. An Early Victorian Album: The Photographic Masterpieces (1843–1847) of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. 1st American ed. New York: Knopf, 1976. p. 152.