Laura Coombs Hills
oil on canvas
24.5 x 21 inches
signed lower right
Provenance: Private collection, Coral Gables, Florida; Private collection, GA
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.
She briefly 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.
Coombs 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 touches.
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.
She was 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.
She 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.