Thomas Hill

Thomas Hill was a landscape painter born in Birmingham, England on September 11, 1829. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1844, Hill settled with his family in Taunton, Massachusetts and worked in Boston as a carriage painter. His art studies were at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Peter F. Rothermel. He painted in Massachusetts throughout the 1850s and often in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with a group of artists which included Durand, Innes, Champney, Bierstadt, Virgil Williams, and his brother Edward Hill.

For health reasons, he was forced to seek a milder climate and, with wife and children, made the overland trek to California in 1861. After settling in San Francisco, he advertised as a portrait painter and in 1862 made his first trip to Yosemite accompanied by William Keith and Virgil Williams. In 1866 he exhibited Yosemite scenes at the National Academy and later in that year journeyed 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, but in 1871 returned to San Francisco to help organize the San Francisco Art Association. While his wife maintained the family home in Oakland, Hill built a studio in Yosemite in 1883 and for his remaining years the park remained his home except during the winter months when he lived in nearby Raymond (Madera County) or in San Francisco where he maintained a studio in the Flood Building. When Virgil Williams died in 1886, Hill became interim director of the School of Design until a new director could be found.

During the 1870s and 1880s, his work was in demand and brought very high prices; however, during the later part of his life his work did not command the interest that it once had due to changing art styles. Like Bierstadt, his panoramic 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 suffered the first of a series of strokes in 1896 which greatly curtailed his artistic output. During the last three years of his life he needed constant care and was unable to paint. His death on June 30, 1908 in Raymond in believed to have been a suicide. Hill is buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

Member: San Francisco Art Association; Bohemian Club.

Awards: silver medal, Maryland Institution, 1853; first prize, California Art Union, 1865; bronze medal, New York Palette Club, 1871; bronze medal, Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, 1876; gold medals, California State Fairs, 1879, 1890; Temple medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, 1884; premium award, Mechanics’ Institution Fair (San Francisco), 1888, bronze medal, 1894.

Works held: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Oakland Museum; Crocker Museum, Sacramento; Society of California Pioneers; Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Stanford Museum; California Historical Society; University of Kansas Museum.

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print.