Thomas Hill was born in Birmingham, England and, as a painter of the Rocky Mountain School, became known as the “Artist of Yosemite.” Hill was educated in public school in Massachusetts and was apprenticed to a coach painter until he was fifteen. He then worked in Boston as an ornamental painter before going on to work in Philadelphia. There, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Rothermel.
By 1853, his work won a Baltimore, Maryland, prize, but in 1861, Hill’s health caused him to move to San Francisco, California. There, he specialized in painting portraits until 1866, when he traveled to Paris as the pupil of Paul Meyerheim. Returning from abroad, Hill settled back in Boston, painting landscapes from 1867-1871. While in Boston, he also painted the immense work Yosemite Valley, which was reproduced both as a chromolithograph and engraved as a book frontispiece in 1870.
In 1871, Hill returned to San Francisco, again for his health. He spent his summers sketching in Yosemite until 1888, when he built his studio there. From 1887 to 1891, Hill worked from photographs to create his work The Driving of the Last Spike, a 98 by 138 inch painting of the joining of the transcontinental rails. About 400 figures were included, 70 as then-familiar portraits. The painting is now owned by the State of California.
Until the last few years, it was fashionable to evaluate Hill as “in wait for the moneyed tourists, his supply of Yosemite’s as inexhaustible as their demand” (Larkin, Oliver, Art and Life in America, 1949).
Reference: The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, by Peggy and Harold Samuels