Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933)

Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933)

Lilla Cabot Perry, like many women artists overlooked by twentieth-century art historians, has only recently been given the attention she is due. During a career spanning many decades, she built an oeuvre of which Frank W. Benson said, “There was never truer, more direct and sincere painting.” 

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The daughter of a Lowell and a Cabot, Lilla Cabot wrote poetry as a young woman. She married Thomas Perry, a writer and intellectual, in 1874. In the mid 1880s, after having had three daughters, she studied painting at the Cowles School in Boston, under Dennis Bunker and Robert Vonnoh. She then moved to Paris with her family and studied painting at Académies Colarossi and Julian. In 1889, she met Claude Monet at Giverny, and spent the next nine summers there with her family, usually renting property adjacent to Monet’s. Perry became one of Impressionism’s earliest proponents in America. From Monet himself she learned to capture in bold strokes and color the sprawling landscapes of the French countryside, and she was equally capable of translating this skill to figural works and the American landscape.

In 1898, Thomas Perry took a teaching position at the Keiogijiku University in Tokyo and the entire family moved to Japan for three years. After they returned and settled in Boston, Perry rented a studio in the Fenway Studio Building, and the family spent summers in Hancock, New Hampshire. Perry’s technical skill and focus on figural subjects placed her in the top tier of artists painting in the Boston School tradition at the turn of the century. She immersed herself in the Boston art world, and became a founding member of the Guild of Boston Artists. A review of one of Perry’s exhibitions at the Guild reveals that, “she sat like a queen receiving the homage of her subjects, her wit and animation as animated as ever - the personification of the ageless artist– an inspiration!”

References: Meredith Martindale and Pamela Moffat, Lilla Cabot Perry: An American Impressionist (Washington, DC: The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1990); Benson’s quote comes from Lilla Cabot Perry: A Retrospective Exhibition (NY: Hirschl & Alder Galleries, Inc., 1969, introduction); The Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin, Fall, 1986.

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