Friday, September 11, 2015

Anna Althea Hills: Early American Impressionist

Anna Althea Hills
Anna Althea Hills  was an American Plein-air painter who specialized in impressionist landscapes of the Southern California coast. Hills is best known for her lovely landscape, marine, genre, and figure painting. 
Anna Hills was born in Ravenna, Ohio on January 28, 1882. Hills, daughter of a minister, moved frequently with her family due to her father's occupation. She lived in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where her mother passed away when she was only four years old, Olivet Michigan, Springfield, Illinois, and in Oberlin, Ohio. 
As a teenager, Hills explored her passion for painting. She attended Olivet College, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City from which she graduated in 1908. Hills continued her studies privately with Arthur Dow and Rhoda Holmes Nichols in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Hills won awards for her work in watercolor (1905) and oil painting and still life (1906). Hills traveled abroad for four years, studying in England with John Noble Barlow, and in 1908, attended the Academie Julian in Paris.
Anna Althea Hills
painting En plein air
In 1913, at thirty-one years old, Anna Hills returned to the United States. She moved to Los Angeles and changed her artistic focus from painting interior figures using the darker, tonalist style in which she was trained, to creating lighter and brighter impressionist landscapes in a higher chromatic range. Hills settled in Laguna Beach, California that same year where she opened a studio in which she worked and taught in the Plein-air tradition. A highly respected teacher, Hills promoted the visual arts through lectures and the organization of special exhibits, which circulated among Orange County public schools. Hills was inspired by the landscapes of the West with its coastal views, deserts, arroyos and mountains and was often seen painting on the hills above the coast of Laguna Beach.
Hills was also known for her community activism. She was involved with the Presbyterian church and ran the Sunday school. Hills was an active member of the California Art Club and held a membership at the Washington Watercolor club. She won the Bronze Medal at the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego in 1915, the Bronze Medal at the California State Fair, Sacramento, California, in 1919, and received the Landscape Prize at the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1922 and 1923. Hills was president of the Laguna Beach Art Association for six years and, as president, it was Hills' advocacy that led to founding the Laguna Beach Art Museum there in 1929. 
Anna Althea Hills
By the Roadside Near El Torro
ca 1914
14 x 11 inches
Oil on canvas
Anna Althea Hills
California Hills
ca n.d.
7 x 10 inches
Oil on canvas board
Solo shows included the Kanst Galleries in Los Angeles, the Fern Buford Galleries in Laguna Beach. Forty-four years after her death, the Laguna Beach Art Association sponsored an exhibition of her work in 1974. Her paintings hang in the Laguna Art Musuem, the Irvine Musuem, Irvine, California, the Fleisher Museum of Russian and California Impressionism in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California.
Anna Althea Hills
Laguna Canyon Road
ca 1912
Oil on canvas
Anna Hills Gallery of Art
Anna Althea Hills
Springtime, Banning, California
ca 1916
Oil on paper/board10 x 14 inches
Private Collection, Courtesy of The Irvine Museum
Hills loved the desert, staying often during the winter months at places such as Banning and Hemet, located near Palm Springs, from which she made sketching treks into the surrounding country. Sadly, Hills passed away on June 13, 1930 in Laguna Beach, California at the age of forty-eight. 

An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marion Yoshiki Kovinick, University of Texas Press, 1998, p. 142-143.
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Patricia Trenton, ed., University of California Press, 1995, pp. 68.
The Irvine Museum, Essay, Peaceful Awakening: Springtime in California, January 20-May 12, 2007,, retrieved September 11, 2015.
Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery Monthly,, retrieved September 11, 2015.
Anna Hills Gallery, Anna Althea Hills Biography American Impressionist,, retrieved September 11, 2015.

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