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 Thomas Hill  (1829 - 1908)

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Lived/Active: California/Massachusetts      Known for: western landscape, national park painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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 time in Europe, especially France among the Barbizon painters and in the studio of Paul Meyerheim.

During the 1870s and 1880s, 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.

He settled with his family in Taunton, Massachusetts and worked in Boston with a carriage maker.  He studied with Peter Rothermel at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and painted in Massachusetts and New Hampshire with George Inness, Virgil Williams, Albert Bierstadt, and his brother, Edward Hill.

Experiencing health problems with the cold, wet New England climate, Hill moved his family back to San Francisco in 1871.

He hit his artistic stride in California during the 1870s, beginning with his first grandiose painting, The Yosemite Valley, which was published as a chromolithograph by Prang.  With Frederic Whymper, Hill was a founding member of the San Francisco Art Association, and in 1873, he became a member of the Bohemian Club, a men's organization dedicated to cultural enhancement.

Hill's paintings continued to bring higher prices in the 1870s, and he was a wealthy man by 1878.  Soon thereafter, however, hard times fell upon the artist, as they did on the San Francisco economy and art market in general.  He struggled through the next decade, moving back and forth to paint in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and his beloved Yosemite Valley in California.  During these years he was still acclaimed but experienced increasing financial distress.  Also his marriage was not happy, which led him to spend more and more time in Yosemite.

When his long-time friend and fellow artist Virgil Williams, director of the California School of Fine Arts, died in 1886, Hill agreed to take over as a director without compensation.  By the following summer, however, running the school had become more than he could handle.  John Muir and Alaska provided the means of escape. Muir, who normally preferred the landscapes of his friend William Keith, commissioned Hill to paint Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska, 'because he could paint ice better than Keith'.  Hill left his position at the School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in the summer of 1887, and took off on a cruise to Alaska that resulted in a number of Alaska and Canadian coastal pictures.  He also spent a winter in New Orleans, creating large studio paintings.

The commissioned painting of Muir Glacier that Hill completed in the winter of 1887-88, now in the collection of the Oakland Museum in California, bears a striking resemblance to another painting held by the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. It shows the same glacier, although the Anchorage painting is almost twice the size of the earlier version.  Both portray the Muir Glacier and foreground beach with a distant steamship in the bay.  Of the paintings in the collection at the Anchorage Museum, Hill's 'Muir Glacier' is certainly the grandest 19th century painting and most important work by a major artist of the period.

Hill's fortunes continued to vacillate until 1896 when he suffered the first of a series of strokes from which he never fully recovered.  He died in 1908, and it is believed that his death was by suicide.  Although the kind of work he and Keith did has been out of favor for most of the 20th century, the quality and importance of their painting has more recently been rediscovered.

Source:
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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 were begun at the Pennsylvania Academy under Peter Rothermel.  During the 1850s he 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 he 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.

Memberships:
Bohemian Club; Atheneum Art Club (Boston); San Francisco Art Association.

Exhibitions:
Maryland Institute, 1853 (medal); Mechanics' Institute Fair (SF), 1864, 1877, 1888 (award), 1894 (bronze medal); California Art Union, 1865 (1st prize); National Academy of Design, 1866; Paris Expo, 1867; NY Palette Club, 1871 (bronze medal); SFAA from 1872; Centennial Expo (Philadelphia), 1876 (medal); Calif. State Fairs, 1879, 1890 (gold medals); PAFA, 1884 (medal); World’s Columbian Expo (Chicago), 1893; Ruskin Art Club (LA), 1904. In: Oakland Museum; Society of Calif. Pioneers; Orange Co. (CA) Museum; Crocker Museum (Sacramento); CHS; LACMA; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley); Stanford Museum; Calif. State Railroad Museum.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
California Art Research, 20 volumes; New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Thomas Hill: The Grand View; American Art Annual 1909; Calif. Design, 1910; SF Chronicle, 7-2-1908 (obituary); Art News, 7-11-1908 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
Called the "Artist of the Yosemite" because of his devotion to that seemingly inexhaustible subject, Thomas Hill was born in Birmingham, England on September 11, 1829.  After immigrating to the United States in 1844, Hill settled with his family in Taunton, Massachusetts.   He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under the tutelage of Peter F. Rothermel.

Hill painted in Massachusetts throughout the 1850's and often in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with a group of artists that included Asher B. Durand, George Inness, Benjamin Champney, Albert 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 that year journeyed to Paris where he was a pupil of Paul Meyerheim and exhibited at the Universal Expo.  Returning to the United States, he stayed in Boston from 1868 to 1870, but returned to San Francisco in 1871 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. This studio was his home for the rest of his life, except for the winter months he spent 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 1870's and 1880's, 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 five thousand paintings of Yosemite, he suffered the first of a series of strokes in 1896 that 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 is believed to have been a suicide.  Thomas Hill is buried in Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art:
Perhaps the most prominent landscape painter in California in the late nineteenth century, Thomas Hill is best known for his paintings of the Yosemite Valley. He is also widely admired, however, for his views of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Yellowstone region, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Born in Birmingham, England in 1829, Hill moved with his family to Taunton, Massachusetts at the age of fifteen. He married in 1851 and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1853. He joined some of America's most significant painters in the White Mountains beginning the following year, and exhibited with them in Boston and elsewhere.

The artist moved to San Francisco in 1861 in search of a milder climate, making his first trip to Yosemite a year later. He went to Paris for more study in 1866-67, again trying New England on his return before moving with his family back to San Francisco in 1871.

Hill's real prominence came in the 1870s. A founding member of the San Francisco Art Association, he became a member of the Bohemian Club, and increasing prices and demand for his paintings made him a wealthy man by 1878. The general economic depression at the end of that decade, however, hit Hill hard, as it did the careers of other artists of the day. He remained highly productive nevertheless, despite seesawing fortunes, until 1896, when he suffered the first of a series of strokes from which he never fully recovered. He died in 1908 in Raymond, California.

Spectacular Western landscapes of the sort produced by Hill, his contemporary and sometimes rival William Keith, and others were out of favor for most of the middle part of the twentieth century, but they have been avidly sought after by individual and institutional collectors in the past generation. Hill's work is represented in most significant collections of American art.

Biography from Whistle Pik Galleries:
THOMAS HILL
1829 - 1908

Thomas Hill came to Taunton, Massachusetts, from England in 1841. He was primarily self-taught. He worked as a carriage painter in the 1840s. He worked in San Francisco during the years 1861 to 1866 and 1871 to 1908. He was in Boston during the years 1867 to 1871.

He helped Virgil Williams found the San Francisco School of Design in 1874. He was commissioned by John Muir to paint in Alaska in 1887. He produced nineteen illustrations for Muir's Picturesque California in 1888.

Hill is best known for his majestic landscapes of California, especially Yosemite. His brother, Edward Hill, painted throughout his life in the White Mountains, but remained in the shadow of his famous brother, Thomas.

Thomas Hill was a member of the Boston Art Club and San Francisco Art Association. Hill's last known address was San Francisco.

He is buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California..

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel:
Thomas Hill was born in England in 1829, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1844. His formal art studies were at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. In the 1850’s, Hill often painted in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with artists such as Albert Bierstadt, George Innes, and Asher Durand.

Fleeing the harsh winters of the East, Hill moved to California in 1861, setting up a studio in San Francisco. Hill enjoyed strong success in San Francisco, especially after taking on Yosemite as his subject. Hill built a studio in Yosemite in 1883 and painted prolifically.

During this time his works were very much in demand and commanding tremendous prices. Like Bierstadt in the East, Hill lost favor with American tastes which, by the mid-1890’s viewed his works as old fashioned.

A series of strokes debilitated Hill, beginning in 1896, and his death in 1908 in believed to have been a suicide.

Biography from The Caldwell Gallery - I:
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.


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