Born on 21 November 1819 in Clerkenwell, London, he was the son of James Hook and Eliza Frances, née Clarke, the daughter of Dr. Adam Clarke. He and his older siblings were baptised by Clarke. He was a pupil at the North Islington proprietary school and later studied art in the Royal Academy Schools. As a boy he was introduced to John Constable by John Jackson RA. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1836 and first exhibited there in 1839. He married a fellow artist, Rosalie Burton, in 1846 and both their sons became artists. A travelling scholarship enabled them to spend two years in Italy. Although their stay in Venice was cut short after only three months (January to March 1848) by the outbreak of revolution, his art was deeply influenced by Venetian painting. In 1853 he transferred his attention from historical subjects to landscape painting, specializing in rural and seaside subjects and celebrating manual labour. Ruskin spoke appreciatively of his work.
In 1857 he moved to Hambledon and then to Whitley in Surrey, and in 1866 built a country house, Silverbeck, near Churt. He was a lifelong Methodist and a dedicated socialist. He was very proud of his heritage from Adam Clarke who indeed was something of a model for him in many ways. For instance, he went to the Shetlands (dear to Clarke's heart) to paint, and identified himself at the local manse; after which all doors were open to him. His Protestantism was reflected in some of his historical pictures, e.g.'Time of the persecution of the Christian Reformers in Paris' (1854); on the other hand, his representation of Queen Isabella of Castile visiting nuns (1853) is sympathetic to Roman Catholicism. He died at Silverbeck on 14 April 1907.
'I was born a Wesleyan the son of a Wesleyan and the Grandson of a very big one, even Dr Adam Clarke and I hope to remain one 'till the "crack of Doom."... I stick as close as I can to Our Father's word for my creed and in my work as near as possible to Our Father's lovely creation.'
Letter to the Rev. William G. Beardmore, 13 May 1895