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 began 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 his 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 following 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 regarded as 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.
Edan Hughes, “Artists in California 1786-1940”
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