The last General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.

[Edinburgh, T. Pursey, 1900.]

Photogravure (42 x 89 cm), signed in pencil in the lower right corner ‘No.55a T. Pursey, Edinburgh’; framed and glazed; with a printed scroll, in brown ink on glazed cloth, listing each sitter by name and providing a key to the photogravure (imprint: T. Pursey, Photographic Artist, 2 South Charlotte St., Edinburgh).

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The last General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.

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A photographic tour-de-force, assembling many hundreds of individual photographic portraits neatly incorporated into a painted scenario, and then reproduced as a photogravure, depicting all the attendees of the last General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, held in May 1900. Evidently a few portraits were unobtainable, or sitters refused to take part, those figures shown facing away from the camera. Pursey must have been basing his project on the work of David Octavius Hill commemorating the first General Assembly of the church in 1843. Hill’s painting, which took twenty-two years to complete, is ‘often considered the first work of art to ever have been painted with the help of photographic images’ (Gossman, Thomas Annan of Glasgow) – portraits and groups taken in Hill and Adamson’s own studio.

Thomas Pursey, ‘photographic artists’, had a studio on the corner of South Charlotte and Princes Street (he used both addresses), and it would appear that many of the individual portraits employed in the work were taken in his study during 1900. He was awarded a medal in the Edinburgh Industrial Exhibition for 1901, but little more is known of him and we have not traced many examples of his work, or indeed another print of the present image.

The Free Church of Scotland was founded by schism from the Church of Scotland in the Disruption of 1843, and lasted until 1900, when most of its adherents joined the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland as the new United Free Church of Scotland on 31 October 1900.

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