Tristram Hillier was born in Beijing in 1905. He was educated in England and graduated from Cambridge University. Hillier went on to study at the Slade School of Art and later in Paris under André Lhote and at the Atelier Colarossi. He developed a rigorous approach to drawing throughout his artistic career - an interest that had begun in his early years. In France in the 1920s he became friendly with prominent Parisian artists such as Georges Braque, Max Ernst and André Masson. He became immersed in the ideas and approaches of the ever-growing Surrealist movement in France and in 1933 became a member of Paul Nash's Unit One Group - associating him further with the approaches and ideas of English Surrealism.
Hillier's first solo exhibition was held in 1931 at the Lefevre Gallery - after this he continued to exhibit widely in Britain and abroad. He was elected as a Royal Academician in 1957 and became a Senior Royal Academician in 1981. After the war, Hillier settled in Somerset where he remained until his death in 1983.