Thomas Hill was an artist who featured oils of scenes from Yosemite produced throughout the last half of the 19th century. He was born in England, September 11, 1829. He didn’t have a great deal of formal training in the artistry, but did work with a carriage painter in his early years. But the knack he had was developed from his inspiration in the White Mountains of New Hampshire beginning in 1855. With a trip to Yosemite in 1865 with painter Virgil Williams and photographer Carleton Watkins, an additional inspiration overtook him. The White Mountains and Yosemite would be the subjects of his focus for the remainder of his career.
Though he would return to the east a number of times and his landscapes included other vistas such as Mount Shasta, Yellowstone, Napa Valley and other scenes in California, Yosemite was his favorite. He would even expand on “oil sketches” originally drawn in Yosemite, in the studio back east. Ironically, his most famous piece had nothing to do with either of these vistas. His work on “The Last Spike” depicted the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Rail Roads at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869. The huge, 8×12 foot painting contains 71 detailed portraits of individuals associated with the event. This picture current resides at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento California. He had other images produced this large. Displayed at the Thomas Hill Studio at Wawona is his rendering created near the old Inspiration Point of Bridalveil and El Capitan.
Hill’s work was enormously popular in his own time commanding prices as high as $10,000. Also, extraordinary about his artistry, was the speed at which he could produce a painting. Hill opened his studio in 1884 located adjacent to the, then, Wawona Hotel (now Big Trees Lodge). His work was highly sought and moderately profitable. He sold over 150 oils in the first three years. Visitors would commission him upon arrival and would carry home a finished oil painting before the week was out.
The studio (pictured) acts as gift shop, visitor center, and a small gallery of Hill’s work. Also available at the studio are wilderness permits. The Studio is opened and “manned” from about April to October each year.
Hill would stay at the studio during the summer and move down to Raymond, CA during the winter months. He suffered a stroke in 1896, but he continued to paint. Thomas Hill passed away in his home in Raymond, CA, June 30, 1908.