Perry, Lilla Cabot (c. 1848–1933)

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Perry, Lilla Cabot (c. 1848–1933)

American poet and painter who promoted French Impressionism in the U.S. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, around 1848; died in Hancock, New Hampshire, in February 1933; studied art at Cowles School, Boston; attended the Julian and Colarossi academies in Paris, France; married Thomas Sargeant Perry (a scholar and professor of 18th-century English literature), in 1874; children: three daughters.

Poet and artist Lilla Cabot Perry is remembered primarily for her association with artist Claude Monet (1840–1926), and for her efforts in promoting French Impressionism in the United States during the early years of the 20th century. She was also a respected artist in her own right, however, as a retrospective of her work at the Hirschl and Adler Galleries in New York in 1969 helped reestablish.

Perry was born around 1848, into the prominent Cabot and Lowell families of Boston, and was raised and educated in the elite social circles of that city. Married in 1874 to Professor Thomas Sargeant Perry, a professor of 18th-century English literature and grandnephew of the renowned Commodore Matthew C. Perry, she hosted one of the city's most celebrated salons for artists and intellectuals. During the 1880s, Perry began to study art at Boston's Cowles School where she was a student of Robert Vonnoh and Dennis Bunker. She also studied at the popular Julian and Colarossi academies in Paris, and with Alfred Stevens. As well, she wrote poetry, publishing the first of her four volumes of works, Heart of Weed, in 1886.

A turning point in Perry's personal and professional life was her meeting with French Impressionist Claude Monet in the summer of 1889. For ten summers thereafter, the Perry family lived in a house next door to Monet's at Giverny, the site of his famous water-lily garden. Although Monet did not accept pupils, Perry had frequent discussions with the painter, and with Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), who lived nearby. Inspired by Monet's style and technique, and encouraged by him to paint directly from nature, Perry created such works as Haystacks, Giverny (c. 1895), called by Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin "an homage to the master." They go on to explain, however, that Perry did not adhere slavishly to the guidelines of Impressionism: "[A]lthough her subjects are almost always casually arranged in space and involved in commonplace activities, thus reflecting the Impressionistic style, she retained a clearer draftsmanship and a relatively greater concern for detail and volume than appear in French Impressionist work." Linear clarity was a feature of her portraits particularly after 1912, when she stopped spending extended periods in France.

When Perry returned home after that first summer visit in 1889, she brought with her Monet's painting Étretat, the first of his work ever seen in Boston. She was surprised and dismayed, however, when few in her circle seemed to like the painting. Along with Mary Cassatt , another Monet proponent, Perry immediately embarked on a campaign to publicize the new art, lecturing and writing articles on Impressionism, and encouraging her wealthy friends to buy Monets. She also promoted Impressionism through her own work, which was always well received by the critics and the public. As Harris and Nochlin point out, "it is no accident that her third volume of poetry, published in 1898, was entitled Impressions."

From 1893 to 1901, the Perrys lived in Tokyo, Japan, where Thomas taught English literature at Keiogijiku College. While there, Perry completed more than 80 pictures of Japanese life and scenery. Upon returning to America, she worked mostly in Boston and at her summer home in Hancock, New Hampshire. The light-filled countryside of New Hampshire became the subject of her later landscapes which are fully Impressionistic in character.

In 1914, Perry founded the Guild of Boston Artists, of which she also served as the first secretary. She frequently exhibited with the Guild, as well as with museums and art societies along the East Coast. In 1927, she published Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909. Lilla Cabot Perry died at her New Hampshire home in February 1933.


Harris, Ann Sutherland, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists: 1550–1950. LA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976.

Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists. NY: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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