Skilled in a range of subjects, including portraits and landscapes, James John Hill became particularly identified with picturesque rural genre scenes, often featuring pretty young peasant women. James John Hill was born in Broad Street, Birmingham, the second of six children of Daniel Hill, plater, and Elizabeth (née Rowlinson), the daughter of a brass founder. He was named after his godfather, the artist, John James Masquerier, who was a friend of his father. His elder brother, Daniel Rowlinson Hill, became an architect based in Birmingham, while his cousin, the lock and safe manufacturer, Daniel Rowlinson Ratcliff, became a Liberal MP.
Hill attended Hazelwood School, Edgbaston, which was founded by the educational reformer, Rowland Hill. He then studied art under Vincent Barber at Joseph Barber’s academy in Great Charles Street, alongside Thomas Creswick and Frederick Henry Henshaw, among others. It has been suggested that he also took lessons from the landscape painter, David Cox, and even that he was related to him (see Thomas B Brumbaugh, ‘A New Look at David Cox’, Southeastern College Art Conference Review, 1966, page 8).
Nevertheless, he worked mainly as a portrait painter at the outset of his career.
In the late 1830s, Hill married Harriet (possibly née Parsons), and she gave birth to their first two children – James and Emily – while they were still living in Warwickshire. Following the family’s move to London, they would have another three children: Daniel, Thomas and Alfred. By 1857, they had settled at Sutton House, West Hill, Highgate, while James rented a series of studios, mainly in the artists’ quarter north of Oxford Street or in Camden Town.
Hill exhibited mainly at the Society of British Artists over 40 years. Popular among his fellow contributors, he became a member in 1842 and Vice-President in 1868. In addition, he showed at the Royal Academy, between 1845 and 1868, and the British Institution, between 1848 and 1855.
Hill’s godfather, J J Masquerier, introduced him to Angela Burdett-Coutts, who, in 1871, would be raised to the peerage as a Baroness in recognition of her work as a philanthropist. She became a close friend and his leading patron, commissioning portraits, animal subjects and genre scenes. Other of Hill’s paintings were purchased by Herbert Ingram, the founder of The Illustrated London News, which often contained images of Hill’s work.
Increasingly, Hill became best known for his images of pretty young peasant women in landscape settings, though he also painted pure landscapes. He made sketching tours to Ireland, from 1854, and Wales, and worked alongside his friend, F H Henshaw, at Packington Park, Warwickshire. He also added figures to some of the landscapes of Henshaw and Henry Bright.
A widower by 1881, Hill died of bronchitis at home in Highgate, on 27 January 1882.
Further reading: R E Graves, revised by Delia Gaze, ‘Hill, James John (1811–1882)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, Vol 27, Page 140