Thomas Hill

American, 1829 - 1908
Immigrating from England in 1844, Thomas Hill came to America with his family as a youngster, and became one of America’s most famous 19th century landscape painter, especially of panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite. He also painted landscapes of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, where he was particularly fascinated by the geysers.

Hill studied art in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy, and his first intentions were to become a history painter. However, he changed to landscape when he spent some time in Europe, especially France among the Berbizon painters and in the studio of Paul Meyerheim.

During the 1870’s and 1880’s his work brought high prices, but diminished with the increasing popularity of modernism. In the latter half of the 20th century, his work was rediscovered, and he is now considered one of the major figures in American art.
Thomas Hill (1829-1908)

Thomas Hill was born in Birmingham, England on September 11, 1829. After coming to the U.S. in 1844, he settled with his family in Taunton, Massachusetts and worked in Boston as a carriage painter. His art studies begun at the Pennsylvania Academy under Peter Rothermel. During the 1850s Hill painted in Massachusetts and often in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with a group of artists that included Asher Durand, George Inness, Benjamin Champney, Albert Bierstadt, Virgil Williams, and his brother, Edward Hill.

For health reasons he sought a milder climate and, with wife and children, made the overland trek to San Francisco in 1861. After establishing a home and studio, he advertised as a portrait painter. The next year he made his first trip to Yosemite accompanied by William Keith and Virgil Williams. In 1866 Thomas Hill exhibited Yosemite scenes at the National Academy and then sailed to Paris where he was a pupil of Paul Meyerheim and exhibited at the Universal Exposition.

Returning to the U.S., he stayed in Boston during 1868-70 and then returned to San Francisco to help organize the San Francisco Art Association. His marriage was not a happy one. While his wife lived in the family home in Oakland, Hill built a studio in Yosemite in 1883, and for his remaining years the park was his home except during winters when he lived nearby in Raymond or at his studio in San Francisco.

When Virgil Williams died in 1886, Hill was briefly the director of the School of Design. During the 1870s and 1880s his works were in demand and brought high prices. By the 1890s his epic landscapes were considered old-fashioned and for half a century or more his work was in eclipse. Today his work has regained its proper stature and he is considered a giant in American art. Although he painted over 5,000 paintings of Yosemite, he had many strokes after 1896 which hampered his painting. His death on June 30, 1908 in Raymond, CA is believed to have been a suicide.

Source: Edan Hughes, "Artists in California 1786-1940"
Thomas Hill was born in 1829 and moved to the U.S in 1844. He worked as a decorative painter until his move to Boston in 1847. A few years later, in 1853, Hill moved to Philadelphia and took up portrait and floral painting. There he attended The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. From 1861-66, Hill moved to San Francisco where he created his most well known pieces of grandiose landscapes. In 1874 he helped found the San Francisco School of Design. Hill had nineteen illustrations published in John Muir's "Picturesque California", which depicted panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley. Hill's best known painting, "Driving the Last Spike", showed the completion of the Union-Pacific Railroad. He worked at an astounding speed to turn out canvases. In 1898 Hill was paralyzed and died by suicide in 1908.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
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