Thomas Hill

Thomas Hill received his formal artistic training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before moving to San Francisco in 1861. He visited Yosemite for the first time in 1865 and then traveled to Paris for two years of study. Back in California in the 1870s, Hill became Albert Bierstadt’s chief rival as the foremost painter of majestic Western scenery. His works were collected in the East as well as in California, and his six by ten foot painting Yosemite Valley (from Below Sentinel Dome, As Seen from Artist’s Point) (Oakland Museum), was one of twelve American paintings out of about four hundred candidates to be awarded a premium at the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 by an international jury. All through the concluding decades of the nineteenth century, Hill’s Yosemite views continued to receive accolades in the press. In January 1886, the art critic of the San Franciscan praised a Hill Yosemite panorama as “a picture nobly conceived and royally executed. Whosoever looks upon it feels lifted for the moment above the petty interests and vexations of every-day life to the holy calm and infinite peace of the eternal hills.”

Though Hill is best known for his Yosemite paintings, he was a versatile artist, adept at many other subjects, particularly wood interiors. While in France, he visited Barbizon, where views in the nearby Forest of Fontainebleau were favored subjects of the then world-famous artists like Théodore Rousseau. Instead of the gloomy, brooding renditions of forest scenery done by the Barbizon painters, Hill’s wood interiors sparkle with color and energy, as the artist was a master of making splotches of color resolve at proper viewing distance into credible, “realistic” images. Like Bierstadt, Hill also excelled at oil-on-paper outdoor studies.