Hill, Thomas – American Western Landscape Artist

Thomas Hill (British/American, 1829 to 1908)

Thomas Hill is considered one of the foremost landscape painters of the American West. Born in Birmingham, England, Hill came to the United States a young painter in 1844. His family settled in Massachusetts where Hill apprenticed to a coach painter. In 1853 Hill attended figure painting classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under the tutelage of Peter Frederick Rothermel (1817-1895). Hill became a successful portraitist and still-life painter working in Philadelphia and later Boston.1

In 1861 Hill moved to California opening a portrait studio in San Francisco. Soon after his move west, Hill visited Yosemite with fellow painters William Keith and Virgil Williams. In 1866 Hill’s View of the Yosemite Valley, 1865 (New York Historical Society) was exhibited at the National Academy of Design. This painting commemorated Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 signing of the Yosemite Grant Act, protecting the land from further commercial expansion.

That same year Hill traveled to Paris to study landscape painting with the Barbizon painter Paul Meyerheim. With Meyerheim’s encouragement, Hill exhibited landscapes at the Exposition Universelle in 1867. He returned to Boston and painted Yosemite Valley (1868) based on his earlier sketches from California. This monumental work earned critical praise during its exhibition at Child’s Gallery in Boston and established Hill as “the recognized authority in Yosemite and Sierra painting” (The Boston Commonwealth, 1868).2

In 1870 Hill returned to California quickly immersing himself in the San Francisco art scene. He made extended sketching trips to Yosemite, Monterey Bay and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. In 1876 two canvases, including a view of Yosemite Valley, were shown at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

In 1888 Hill established a studio at Wawona near the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Chronic health problems prompted Hill to spend his summers at Wawona. Now a mature artist and successful landscape painter, Hill successfully sold his rich, painterly views of Yosemite Valley to wealthy tourists

Hill’s enduring legacy was demonstrated when his View of the Yosemite Valley (1865) hung behind President Barack Obama during the 2009 inaugural luncheon. That same year his studio in Wawona, now preserved as a visitor’s center, hosted an exhibition of Hill’s views of Yosemite Valley.

1. Lekisch, Barbara. Embracing scenes about Lakes Tahoe & Donner: painters, illustrators & sketch artists 1855-1915. Lafayette, Calif: Great West Book, 2003, pp. 85-89.
2. Natalie Spassky, et. al. and Kathleen Luhrs, ed. American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. II. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 311-313.

Information courtesy of Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, April 2015.

The preeminent late 19th century California landscapist Thomas Hill earned a lifelong reputation as a man of the mountains. Most renowned for his paintings of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Hill emigrated in 1844 from England to the U.S., where he trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and painted in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with such Hudson River School notables as Asher B. Durand and Albert Bierstadt. Poor health motivated Hill to relocate his family to San Francisco, and in 1862, he made the first of numerous treks to Yosemite – a source of inspiration that resulted in over 5,000 paintings and gained him the nickname “Artist of the Yosemite.” Throughout his long career, Hill sought out mountain subjects, not merely in California, but in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Yellowstone. Hill took a trip to Yosemite in 1862 and became the first artist to open a studio there. He produced more than 5,000 oil paintings of Yosemite.

Information courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries, January, 2009.

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