Rix’s father, Alfred, brought their entire family overland to California from Vermont in the early 1850s. After his wife died, Alfred sent young Julian back to be brought up by New England relatives. Julian Rix returned to San Francisco when he was 15 in 1866. His father apprenticed him to a firm of house painters.
His sketches drew the attention of local artists and soon young Rix became one of the first students at the San Francisco Art Association. During the summers of 1873-1880, Rix traveled through California, painting all the way. Rix exhibited his works annually in the 1870s and 1880s with the San Francisco Art Association and the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute.
In 1883, Rix moved to New Jersey and, later, New York. He exhibited his work regularly in New York galleries. Rix traveled to Europe in 1889 and was influenced by the Barbizon School. He lived on the East Coast for the rest of his life, dying at the age of 52.