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Lilla Cabot Perry

 (1848 - 1933)
Lilla Cabot Perry was active/lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire / United Kingdom, France.  Lilla Perry is known for impressionist figure and landscape painting.

Lilla Cabot Perry

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Lilla Cabot Perry
Born in Boston, Lilla Perry was a key person, along with Mary Cassatt, in bringing French Impressionism* to the United States from France.  "For many years, she lectured, wrote, and encouraged American patronage of the style." (Dunn, 16) She was also the artist most closely involved with the Guild of Boston Artists*, which opened its galleries in 1914 to promote accomplished painters and sculptors.  She served on the board as the first secretary and worked hard to cultivate persons for financial backing.

Pery had prominent Boston social credentials that included the Cabot and Lowell families.  Her father was a distinguished surgeon; and her husband's great uncle, Commodore Matthew Perry, opened Japan to the world in 1853.

In 1874, she married Professor Thomas Sergeant Perry, a professor of 18th-century literature, and their home became a gathering place for many Boston intellectuals including Henry James, William Dean Howells, and her brother-in-law, painter John LaFarge.

She had elite private schooling and began her art studies with Robert Vonnoh and Dennis Bunker at the Cowles School in Boston.  Having first traveled to Europe with her family in 1887, she studied in France privately with Alfred Stevens and at the Julian* and Colarossi* Academies.  She also exhibited at the salons and expositions and in 1889, attended Claude Monet's exhibition, "Impressions", which "was a revelation for Perry, who decided to take up residence in Giverny." (Dunn, 16)

In 1889, Perry and Cecilia Beaux visited Claude Monet at Giverny*, France, and she was highly intrigued with his painting.  He, who never took pupils, did give Perry advice and encouraged her to put down on canvas her first impression, saying that was the truest and most pure expression.

Between 1889 and 1909, she and her husband spent ten summer seasons in Giverny, where they lived next door to Monet and became close friends.  Perry recorded interviews with Monet, who seemed very fond of her, and the result was Perry's book, published in 1927, Reminiscences of Claude Monet.  She also successfully encouraged her wealthy friends to purchase Monet's paintings.

In 1889, she returned to Boston with one of Monet's paintings, Etretat, one of the first Impressionist works to appear in that area, and she was surprised that no one was very taken with the painting.  Several years later, she gave lectures on Monet to the Boston Art Students Association.

In 1898, her husband, accepted a college teaching position in Tokyo, Japan as chair of English Literature, and living there until 1901, she painted the landscape and the people, completing more than eighty paintings.  Of this period in her life, art historian William Gerdts wrote: "Lilla Perry was one of the most significant of the American painters who went to Japan in the late 19th century; . . . of all the Americans to work there, Perry's work is the least traditional and is the most indebted to the Impressionist aesthetic, and some of her Japanese scenes are, in color and brushwork, extremely close to Monet." (97)

In her later years, she lived in the upper class Back Bay area of Boston, and spent her summers in Hancock, New Hampshire.  Lilla was a founder and first Secretary of the Guild of Boston Artists.

Much of her painting of that period was for her own enjoyment and focused on activities of upper class women, with her daughters frequently serving as the models.  She seldom did any preliminary sketching, and pastel was a favorite medium.

Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists
William Gerdts, American Impressionism
David Dunn, Breaking Boundaries, American Women in France, ca. 1880-1930

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Lilla Cabot Perry
Lilla Cabot was born on January 13, 1848 in Boston, Massachusetts, into a socially prominent family.  Her father, Samuel Cabot, was a surgeon, her mother, Hannah, was a member of New England's distinguished Lowell family.  She had seven younger siblings, all of them educated in private schools.

In 1874 she married Professor Thomas Sargeant Perry, a teacher of 18th century literature, and their home became a gathering place for many Boston intellectuals, including her brother-in-law, John LaFarge.  By the time Lilla reached the age of thirty-six they had three daughters.  She began her art studies with Robert Vonnoh and Dennis Bunker at the Cowles School in Boston and then in France where she studied with Alfred Stevens and at the Julian and Colarossi Academies.  She also exhibited at the salons and expositions in Paris.

Between 1889 and 1907, the Perrys spent their summer seasons in Giverny where they lived next door to Claude Monet and became close friends.  He was very fond of her and she was responsible for having interviews with him published in magazines and encouraging her wealthy friends to purchase his paintings.  When she returned to Boston she was surprised to find that people were not taken with his paintings which were the first Impressionist works seen there.

In 1898, Perry's husband accepted a teaching position in Japan and there she painted the landscape and the people, completing more than eighty paintings.  They stayed for three years and she was afforded the opportunity to introduce Monet to Japan.

In her later years Perry lived in the upper class Back Bay area of Boston and spent her summers in Hancock, New Hampshire.  She used her daughters as models for many of her paintings but she also received many portrait commissions.  Indeed, during her forty-nine year career she was such a successful portraitist that she was able to support herself on her income from commissions.

She died on February 28, 1933 in Hancock, New Hampshire. She was painting on the day she died.

Sources include:
From the Internet, and

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher form Laguna Woods, California.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)
Lilla Cabot Perry was a painter of landscapes, portraits, and figure subjects and played a major role in Boston art life at the turn of the century. In addition to introducing American audiences to the "new truth" of Impressionism, Perry was among the first generation of American artists to live and work in Giverny, France, and was the only turn of the century American woman artist to paint in Japan. In an era when women were generally discouraged from pursuing careers, Perry was one of the few woman artists who successfully combined the stringent demands of home and professional life.

Lilla Perry was born in Boston in 1848, the oldest of eight children in the family of the distinguished surgeon Samuel Cabot and his wife, Hannah Lowell Jackson Cabot. A member of Boston's elite Brahmin class, Perry grew up in an atmosphere of refinement and gentility, surrounded by art, music and books. Visitors to her family's Park Square parlor included such noted literary figures as Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson; her childhood companions, Henry James and Helen Bell, were also destined to assume prominent roles in Boston's intellectual and cultural circles. Perry strengthened her impressive family lineage in 1874 when she married Thomas Sargeant Perry, a noted critic and scholar of eighteenth century literature. Thomas Perry's descendants included Benjamin Franklin and Commodore Matthew C. Perry; his sister was married to the artist John LaFarge.

Although Lilla Perry took up art during the late 1870s, she remained self-taught until the mid-1880s, when she received critiques from Alfred Q. Collins, one of Boston's finest portraitists. She also studied privately under Robert Vonnoh and attended the Cowles Art School, where Dennis Miller Bunker taught her.

In 1887, Perry and her husband traveled to Paris, accompanied by their three young daughters. While Thomas Perry established himself among the community of American writers that included William Dean Howells, Lilla attended classes at the Academies Julian and Colarossi and studied privately with Alfred Stevens. She also spent two months in Munich, working with the social realist painter, Fritz von Uhde. During this period, she employed an academic style inspired by the example of her teachers as well as by the Old Master tradition.

The Perrys spent the summer of 1889 in Giverny, the small agricultural hamlet located on the banks of the Seine about forty miles northwest of Paris. A thriving art colony, having been discovered only two years earlier by a group of artists that included Bostonians Theodore Breck and Theodore Wendel, Giverny provided plein air painters with a lush, rural landscape bathed in the soft, blue-green light of Normandy. Giverny was also the home of Claude Monet, the master of French Impressionism. In contrast to the majority of Anglo-American artists who summered in Giverny, Lilla Perry was one of the few painters admitted into Monet's inner circle. She quickly became a close friend and was deeply influenced by his broken brushwork and high-keyed palette.

Lilla Perry returned to Boston in 1890, bringing with her one of Monet's views of Etretat as well as a collection of colorful Giverny canvases by John Leslie Breck. Intent on fostering Impressionism, she encouraged her fellow Bostonians to patronize Monet and arranged for a public exhibition of Breck's canvases at the St. Botolph Club. She resided in Giverny during the summers of 1891, 1894-97, 1906, 1907, and 1909, and became an important proselytizer on behalf of Monet, giving lectures and writing articles on his work. Her essay, "Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909," published in the American Magazine of Art in 1927, remains a principal source of information on Monet's Giverny period. Throughout her career, Perry continued to explore Impressionist strategies in her landscapes, but adhered to a more conservative approach in her portrait and figure work.

In 1898, Perry's husband was offered a teaching position in Japan. The family subsequently lived in Tokyo from 1898 until 1901, during which time Perry depicted themes such as Mount Fuji and lotus flowers. In October 1898, a one-woman exhibition of her work was held in Tokyo and she was made an honorary member of the Nippon Bijutsu Art Association.

Lilla Perry had her first solo exhibition in Boston in 1897 at the St. Botolph Club. She also exhibited her work in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, at the prestigious Paris salons in 1889, 1895, 1896, and 1897, at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (1915).

A key figure in Boston's cultural life,Lilla Perry was a founding member and secretary of the Guild of Boston Artists. She was also an accomplished poet: four books of her poetry were published between 1886 and 1923. After 1903, she spent the majority of her summers in Hancock, New Hampshire. During the 1910s and 1920s, she specialized in views of New England, especially snow scenes.

Examples of Lilla Perry's work can be found in major public collections throughout the United States and Europe, including The Fogg Museum, Harvard University; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and The Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois. In 1991, a major retrospective exhibition of her work, Lilla Cabot Perry: An American Impressionist, was held at The National Museum of Woman in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Perry's life and career has also been examined in recent books and exhibition catalogues devoted to American Impressionism, art activity in fin-de-siecle Boston, and in publications devoted to the achievements of America's women artists.


© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery.

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About  Lilla Cabot Perry

Born:  1848 - Boston, Massachusettes
Died:   1933 - Hancock, New Hampshire
Known for:  impressionist figure and landscape painting