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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Lilla Cabot Perry

Giverny Landscape, in Monet's Garden, Lilla Cabot Perry                  
Little Girl on a Lane, Giverny,
Lilla Cabot Perry
Yesterday, In discussing my recent visit to Claude Monet's estate at Giverny, I briefly mentioned the fact that it had become something of a mecca for art lovers, especially those enamored with Impressionism. Although I wouldn't exactly place myself in the "enamored" category, I do have a liking for such works as well as an interest in the gardens which inspired the man which inspired the movement. Let me note that there is really nothing new in all this. Monet, the man, his art, and his gardens have long had an attraction for other artists, dating back to as early as 1885 before Monet was more than just another en-plein-air painter renting a cottage nearby. He bought a home there in 1890. His famous gardens came later, as did the bulk of his admirers. Among those drawn to Giverny in the early days were several American artists such as Theodore Robinson, John Breck, Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, and Theodore Earl Butler. Although no one kept a record of such things at the time, it's also likely the American expatriate painter, Mary Cassatt, was also a visitor and brought along her friend from Boston, Lilla Cabot Perry.

Late Afternoon--Giverny, Lilla Cabot Perry
Lilla Cabot Perry, Self-portrait, ca. 1889-98
Although written records of those coming and going from Giverny might be scarce, the painted records are not. Lilla Cabot Perry learned Impressionism there from the source, Monet himself. Her Giverny Landscape, in Monet's Garden (top), though of uncertain date (she visited nine different summers over the course of twenty years), Monet's influence is obvious, notably in her Late Afternoon--Giverny (above), perhaps to the point of even being her instructor. Perry's Little Girl on a Lane, Giverny (above, left), would seem to indicate more than simple observation on her part. Even as Monet continued to struggle, his impact upon the avant-garde art world can hardly be overstated. Likewise, his near constant need of funds during these years would suggest he had more than a few paying students.
Thomas Sergeant Perry Reading a
Newspaper, Lilla Cabot Perry
Lilla Cabot was born in 1848, the eldest of eight children. Boston was then, and now, a city nearly synonymous with the name, Cabot. Her father was a noted surgeon, one of her brothers, Samuel Cabot IV, became a chemist. Another brother became a distinguished surgeon like his father, while yet another brother founded the Cabot Corporation which made and marketed the Valspar Cabot Stains developed by the chemist in the family. In short, the Cabot family had money and social standing in Boston society second to none. Lilla grew up studying literature, foreign languages, poetry, music, and sketching. Her family were staunch abolitionists, helping runaway slaves and caring for the wounded during the Civil War. Household guests included such names as Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and James Russell Lowell. Apparently those names also included Thomas Sergeant Perry (left), a Harvard scholar and linguist whom Lilla married in 1874. They had three daughters.

La Petite Angele, II, 1889, Lilla Cabot Perry

Portrait of an Infant (the artist's daughter, Margaret),
1876, Lilla Cabot Perry, her first portrait.
Lilla Cabot Perry first became interested in painting through her acquaintance with Boston artist, John Lafarge, who created a stained glass window for the Perry home in Boston where they often entertained such literary notables as Henry James and William Dean Howells. Her Portrait of an Infant (right) dates from 1876 and is said to be her first surviving portrait. With the death of her father-in-law, an inheritance allowed Perry to study painting with several local Boston artists during the early 1880s. She received her first introduction to Impressionism from Robert Vonnoh, who encouraged her to continue her studies in Paris, first at the Académie Colarossi then at the Academie Julian, as well as brief periods in Madrid, Munich, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Her La Petite Angele, II (above), from 1889, marks a distinct shift in her work in the direction of impressionism, painted around the time she first visited Giverny.

The Trio (Alice, Edith, and, Margaret Perry), Lilla Cabot Perry
Open Air Concert, Lilla Cabot Perry
In returning to Boston, Perry was one of the first to introduce Impressionism into the mainstream of American art thru exhibitions of her own works as well as those by Monet, Pissarro, and others. Her portraits of her musical daughters (above), The Trio and her Open Air Concert, (left) capture with a mature sense of Impressionist confidence her favorite subjects--her children. On rare occasions, however, she also painted boys, as seen in her Boy Fishing from 1929. The painting now hangs in the White House.

Boy Fishing, 1929, Lilla Cabot Perry


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