Painter and printmaker. Along with his father and son, also artists, he did much to popularize and sustain American interest in landscape art. Chiefly a watercolorist, he also recorded urban scenes, rural pursuits, and still lifes. Born in London, Hill emigrated as a child to Philadelphia. In 1822 the family moved to New York, where he became a capable engraver while working in his father's shop. Most of his early work records city views or rural activity, such as scenes along the Erie Canal. In 1833 Hill visited London, and later he traveled widely in the United States. From 1836 he made his home in the area of the Hudson River town of Nyack. Between 1836 and 1841 he worked as a topographical artist for the New York State Geological Survey, and in the 1840s he visited many American cities to produce views for publication. After developing an interest around 1850 in the writings of English aesthetician John Ruskin, he more often turned to pure landscape or to still life. Subsequent vibrantly detailed, delicately stippled watercolors exemplify the skill, sensitivity, and reverence for nature associated with American Pre-Raphaelitism. Hill's most innovative works blur the categories of landscape and still life by presenting in natural surroundings flowers, fruits, or other subjects normally associated with still life.
His father, John Hill (1770–1850), was an expert engraver whose aquatints enhance two of the earliest compilations of landscape views: Joshua Shaw's Picturesque Views of American Scenery (1819–21) and William Guy Wall's Hudson River Portfolio (1821–25). Born in London, he enjoyed a successful career as a printmaker there before settling in Philadelphia in 1816. After moving to New York, he continued to collaborate as a printmaker with important painters, while also producing drawings and watercolors. Following his retirement, he lived for the last decade or so of his life in the vicinity of Nyack, where he died. John William Hill's son, painter and etcher John Henry Hill (1839–1922), extended his father's interests in landscape and in watercolor. From his earliest work, he shared his father's interest in tightly detailed Pre-Raphaelitism, although he later softened his technique somewhat. His many seemingly artless works effect a lively freshness as they also serve his empirical bent. Born in the Nyack area, John Henry Hill died there as well. Trained as an artist by his father, he made three trips to Europe, to London in 1864–65 and 1878 and to the Continent in 1879. In 1868 he painted scenes of the West while on a government expedition led by Clarence King, but most of his works depict locations in New England or New York State, particularly Lake George. His 1867 etching portfolio, Sketches from Nature, advanced firsthand observation of nature as the basis of art. In 1888 he published a brief biography, John William Hill: An Artist's Memorial, illustrated with etchings of his father's work.