John William Hill was the son of the British aquatint engraver John Hill and the father of John Henry Hill. He immigrated with his family to this country in 1819. He was apprenticed to his father in 1822 when his family moved from Philadelphia to New York City.
In 1833, by the age of 21, he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design. Early in his career he was a topographical artist employed by the New York State Geological Survey and later by Smith Brothers of New York City, for whom he made watercolor views of many American cities. About 1855, Hill read Ruskin’s Modern Painters and became interested in the American Pre-Raphaelite Movement of which he came to be considered the leading spirit in America.
A versatile artist, he worked in lithography, aquatint, and watercolor. He made detailed pictures directly from nature, many in watercolor and executed in a stipple technique with tiny brushes normally employed for miniatures.
He exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1829 until his death and also at the Brooklyn Art Association from 1862 until his death.
He traveled to the White Mountains in 1852 and again in 1857.