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Image of Yosemite Valley.
Thomas Hill's Yosemite Valley

How Art Shapes Our Lives: Thomas Hill

By Sal Maccarone

Image of ancient petroglyphs.

Ancient petroglyphs

Artists have been rendering their surroundings ever since they began to walk the earth. For instance, primitive cave paintings and pre-historic petroglyphs bear witness to the way things were. Landscape paintings are the only record that we have about where, and how these ancient groups lived. Bodies of water, forests, mountains, valleys, animals and people are just a few of the features that are included in these early landscapes. As time moved on, especially during the Renaissance, landscape painting began to be accepted as an art genre of its own. Improvements in graphical perspective such as a natural progression from the forefront to a distant view, made narrative and landscape paintings convincing to the eye.

Image of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Albert Bierstad – Hudson River School – Sierra Nevada Mountains (1868)

Thomas Hill, (1829–1908), migrated to the United States during 1844. He was born in Birmingham, England at a time when that government was in flux. Within ten years of his move ‘across the pond’, Thomas enrolled into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. A traveler at heart, it wasn’t long before he discovered the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Consequently, he also became acquainted with the romanticism of the Hudson River School. Artists such as Albert Bierstad, a part of that school, inspired Thomas to focus on inspirational landscape painting as a life career. As part of a second generation of the Hudson River style Thomas had his first solo exhibition of paintings at the age of twenty-nine. Three years later, in 1861, the burgeoning artist moved with his growing family to San Francisco. Shortly thereafter – sometime before 1865 – he first became acquainted with Yosemite. Lucky for us, and the world!

Uneasy, and still aspiring, Thomas traveled back to Europe during 1866 to seek more training. His eleven month sojourn turned out to be a very important time period in his development as a realistic painter. The exposure to other landscape artists in France had taught him the significance of naturalistic painting. After returning to Boston for a while, he finally moved back to California in 1872. While sketching and painting Yosemite landscapes throughout his whole young career, Thomas Hill was starting to be noticed both here, and abroad.

Image of El Capitan

Thomas Hill – El Capitan

Anyone who has visited the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite may have noticed the adjacent historic building that was once Thomas Hill’s studio. Now a museum, Hill served in this building as a resident artist beginning in 1886. It is said that Thomas Hill painted scenes of Yosemite more than five thousand times during his life. This is an astounding amount of work! He is now considered as one of the most prominent California landscape painters of the late nineteenth century. Do to his experience, extensive travel and affiliation with other important painters he was very resourceful in style. In addition to his work to do with Yosemite, this impressive artist is also well known for his exquisite paintings of: Yellowstone, the White Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. He was once commissioned by John Muir himself to paint a view of Muir Glacier in Alaska.

Image of Yosemite's Bridal Veil Falls by Thomas Hill.

Thomas Hill – Yosemite’s Bridal Veil Falls

Thomas Hill died on June 30th, 1908 in nearby Raymond, California. What a remarkable Artist!

Sal Maccarone

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