William Brassey Hole was born in Salisbury, England, in November 1846. His father was a physician, and he died when William was only 3. Shortly after his father's passing, his family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. Hole was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, and then a 5-year apprenticeship as a civil engineer, although he was already aspiring to be an artist.
In 1869, Hole would sail from Swansea to Genoa, spending the next six months traveling and sketching through Italy. In Rome, he met Keeley Halswelle, who gave Hole some advice on art and also whose criticism encouraged him to become a professional painter.
Upon his arrival back in Edinburgh, Hole enrolled at the School of Design, he then was admitted to the Royal Scottish Academy's life school. His earliest exhibition at the Academy was in 1873, and five years later, he was elected an associate. Around this time, Hole would pick up etching, a technique that would make his name, and in 1885 he was accepted at the Royal Society of Painters and Etchers.
Hole specialized in painting historical and industrial themes. Although he was an Englishman by birth, his interest and devotion went to depict Scottish national purposes and subjects. In 1898 he painted a Frieze for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's entrance hall, representing over 150 prominent figures from Scotland's past, which was highly praised at the time. Hole would also provide several historical paintings for Edinburgh City Chambers, as well as ecclesiastical art and decorations for other buildings.
By 1900, in order to study the religious and historical background for biblical painting, Hole went to Palestine, where he began producing on 80 watercolors that would later turn into illustrations for his book entitled The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. These pictures were exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1906. Hole also painted several scenes from the Old Testament.
Hole also executed black and white illustrations for books of many authors, such as Sir James Matthew Barrie, Robert burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
William Brassey Hole died in 1917, in Edinburgh.