Lippincott was born in Philadelphia and trained at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but began professional life as a commercial artist. He was an illustrator and scene designer, a specialty he pursued even after becoming an acclaimed painter. In 1874 Lippincott went to Paris. He stayed eight years, while he studied with Léon Bonnat, spent one or more summers in Brittany, and exhibited at the annual Paris salons.
In 1882 he returned to New York, established a studio, and began painting portraits, genre scenes, and landscapes. He also taught at the National Academy of Design. Several of his paintings are set at his summer home and studio on Nantucket. Like his stage designs, these interiors, furnished in a colonial revival style, construct an ideal domestic world. In both his interior and exterior genre scenes Lippincott shows women in genteel pursuits, such as drawing and playing the piano. He was also fond of painting children in rustic surroundings, perhaps transferring his recollections of Brittany to the equally old-fashioned atmosphere of Nantucket.
William H. Truettner and Roger B. Stein, editors, with contributions by Dona Brown, Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Judith K. Maxwell, Stephen Nissenbaum, Bruce Robertson, Roger B. Stein, and William H. Truettner Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn; and London: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999)
William Henry Lippincott studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in Paris, where he shared an apartment with several other American painters. After eight years in Paris, Lippincott returned to New York City in 1882, opened a studio on Broadway, and taught at the National Academy of Design. (Sellin, Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860-1910, 1982)