Laura Coombs Hills
(1859 - 1952)
Laura Coombs Hills was active/lived in Massachusetts. Laura Hills is known for miniature floral, landscape and portrait painting, illustration.
Laura Coombs Hills
Biography from the Archives of askART
Known for miniature portraits, floral paintings in pastel on ivory and
watercolor, as well as oil and pastel landscapes, Laura Coombs Hills
was a key person in the revival of miniature painting in America. In
1904, she was awarded a Gold Medal for her miniatures at the St. Louis
Exposition, and in 1916, she earned the first Medal of Honor ever given
by the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters.
Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art, Artists G - K
studied at the Cowles Art School in Boston, the New York Art Students
League, and with Helen Knowlton, but was described as "comparatively
self-taught." Her style was called miniature portraiture, something she
learned in England in 1893 when she saw examples there.
had a long-time career in Massachusetts where she had a studio in
Boston and summered in Newburyport, her birthplace. She painted nearly
400 miniatures between 1890 and 1933, and these works were exhibited in
Boston and New York and established her reputation. She painted both
ovals and rectangles and used a magnifying glass for the finishing
Being prolific, she made a good living because her paintings
earned her between $300. and $1000., and this income allowed her to
build her own home in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In the 1880s, she was
an illustrator for Louis Prang and Company, designing Valentines and
other cards. She also illustrated children's books.
active in several Boston art organizations and was an Associate of the
National Academy of Design from 1906. In 1897, she became the first
painter of miniatures elected to the Society of American Artists, and
she was founder of the American Society of Miniature Painters.
never married and lived with a sister who kept house for her. As she
aged, her eyesight failed, and the demand for miniatures diminished, so
she turned to the creation of floral pastels, often making arrangements
from flowers in her own garden. Her floral compositions were
asymmetrical and the backgrounds often silky in textural appearance.
Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier
Erica Hirshler, A Studio of Her Own
Paul Sternberg, Art by American Women
Coombs Hills, miniature painter, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on September 7th,
1859. She was a pupil of Helen M. Knowlton at the Art Students' League
of New York and also studied at the Cowles Art School in Boston.
Biography from Taylor Graham
Although she was never
taught miniature painting, she learned her style in England. She
became recognized as a most skillful miniature painter and gained
honors both in America and abroad in this particular form of art.
exhibit included the paintings, Seven Pretty Girls at Newburyport and The Bride, and these works helped to establish her as one of the best miniature
painters of the time. They were said to represent "the most modern
development of all, the essentially pictorial miniature." Her bold new
approach to this age-old genre was rewarded with many commissions.
had a studio in Boston and summered in Newburyport, her birthplace.
Francis Duncan in writing about Hills' work said: "Her portraits are
not large portraits done small, but essentially miniature, they have
that exquisite jewel-like peculiarity the miniature in the hands of the
few masters of this exquisite and lovely art, the quality of which will
make miniature a thing apart. . . .She understands the emotion of color
and by a graceful dexterity masters its adaptation to its subject."
Her portraits were said to be always big in conception
and "she appears to be little hampered by the tiny brushes and the
elusive quality of the ivory." (Critic 47:523)
Her subject matter included portraits,
Indians, gardens, still lifes and flowers. Laura Hills work, The Black
Hat, is what many consider her masterpiece. It is owned by the
Metropolitan Museum in New York. Of this work, the noted miniaturist Alice T. Searle
stated: "Miss Hill is never dull but in the center one of her group of
three large ovals [at a former exhibition] with the portrait of Miss Isobel
da Costa Green, she outshone her own brilliant past."
Transcript further stated her artworks were: "outstanding examples of
the personal style which is the artist's unique contribution to
contemporary practice in miniature painting-the personal style that is
so full of elegance and distinction, of such charm and fine taste, and,
allowing for the diminutive scale, of such astonishing breadth and
Hills was compared to John Singer Sargent for the way she
handled pigment with "dexterous swiftness, her likenesses an assurance
and an apparent ease which are his, too. . . .Her mastery of her medium
indeed is beyond comparison with any living painter except with Sargent
The gifted artist John White Alexander once said on looking
at a miniature of Hills, "Never since Holbein-! and a silence more
eloquent than words finished his sentence." (Scrib 67:384)
was placed in the highest rank among artists who have distinguished
themselves in miniature work in the United States.
also known for larger works, mostly still lifes, done in pastel and
watercolor that demonstrate much of the same mastery and skill employed
in her miniatures. Most of these works came later after she established
herself as a miniature specialist and at a time when the visual ability
needed to continue to do miniatures was failing her. She did
illustrations for Louis Prang and Company, designing valentines and
She was elected an Associate of the National
Academy of Design in 1906. She became the first painter of miniatures
elected to the Society of American Artists.
Memberships included the Society of
American Artists, 1897; Boston Watercolor Club; Copley Society, 1992;
Guild of Boston Artists; ; American Federation of Arts and American Society of Miniature Painters, which she founded.
During her life
she won numerous awards including: Bronze medal, Paris Exposition., 1900; 2nd
prize, Corcoran prize, Society of Washington Artists, 1901; silver
medal, Charleston Exposition., 1902; gold medal, St. Louis Exposition., 1904; medal
of honor, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1920 and others.
work can be found in many important museums and public and private
collections. She never married and lived with a sister who kept house
for her. She passed away in 1952.
An editorial in the November 23, 1939 Boston Herald stated:
"Somehow she manages to bring dancing sunlight and vibrant atmosphere
within the four walls and to soak her flowers in it. One artist
has said that New England and the United States has never produced her
equal." Indeed, Laura Coombs Hills was one of this country's most
sought after flower artists. Primarily self-taught, she was saved from
the self-consciousness that one usually associates with formal art
training. As critic A. J. Philpot stated "Laura C. Hills has
aways been in a class by herself."
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So well known is Laura Hills
for her flower "portraiture" we must not forget her very highly
regarded miniature painting, which was the basis of her renown in the
first place. By 1920 though, when Laura Hills eyesight began to
deteriorate and the demand for miniatures waned, she devoted all of her
time to rendering the flowers that she adored.
In addition, what
is unique about her depiction of flowers is her capacity to grasp the
subtle nuances of "gesture" as the flowers would naturally appear in a
vase. Capturing these qualities on paper required a sureness of
touch and mastery of technique that was her hallmark. Clearly,
time was of the essence in creating these compositions before the
flowers faded, but there seems to be no artificial rearranging of the
shapes and inclination of the flowers. She was also unrivaled in
her fidelity to color and imaginative compositions. This
particular composition is a veritable symphony of the interplay of
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1916 (prize)
American Society of Miniature Painters, 1928 (prize)
St. Louis Exposition, 1904 (gold)
Paris Exposition, 1900 (prize)
Society of Washington Artists, 1901 (prize)
Pan-American Exposition, 1901 (medal)
Charleston Exposition, 1902
Society of American Artists
National St. Louis Academy-Associate
Boston Watercolor Club
Boston Guild of Artists
Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters
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