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Perry, L. Cabot, Lilla Cabot Perry 1848-1933

Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933) Born in January of 1848 into the socially prominent Cabot and Lowell families of Boston, Lilla Cabot had a traditional upbringing for a woman of her station. In 1874, Lilla married Thomas Sargent Perry, a scholar in eighteenth century English literature, an author and teacher who was descended from Commodore Matthew C. Perry. The Commodore had opened Japan to American commercial and social exchange in the years 1853 and 1854. After her marriage, a full decade passed before Lilla Perry took her first professional art instruction. While the Perry home was an intellectual salon for writers and artists, Lilla Perry herself had no formal training until age 36 when she attended Boston's Cowles School under Dennis Bunker and Robert Vonnoh. Vonnoh had studied in Paris the year before and had adapted a style of pre-Impressionistic work in the manner of his Paris tutors. This was Perry's first contact with the free style and bright colors so characteristic of Impressionism. The style so inspired her that she went abroad to study at Julian and Colorossi Academies. Additional independent study included that with Belgian Impressionist Alfred Stevens. In the summer of 1889, the Perry's visited Giverny, the now famous village in Normandy where they met Claude Monet. Although Monet was not known for relationships outside his immediate family and took no students, he was cordial to Lilla and encouraged her in her work. It was on this visit that Perry was able to see an exhibit of over 100 of Monet's paintings. Her life would forever be changed. Through Monet, Perry befriended painter Camille Pissarro, a neighbor of Monet's. Friendships with both masters would be long and beneficial to all parties. Back at home in America that fall, Perry displayed one of Monet's dazzling works. She commented later that no one liked or appreciated the style, colors, life and vitality of the work. Although this might have discouraged others, Lilla Cabot Perry seemed to take this as a challenge. She became a strong advocate for the Impressionistic movement and promoted that school of art in the United States through her writing and lectures as well as with her own paintings. She was not, however, an aggressive promoter of her own work. It might also be of interest that, in addition to her artwork, Perry was also an accomplished poet, having published four volumes of poems. Lilla Perry is recognized as an important American woman Impressionist, perhaps surpassed only by Mary Cassatt. There are differences that are important, not only to each artist but also to their resulting works. Cassatt's work held more immediate "perfection" in that her style and presentation were more fluid and possibly more luminous. Perry's work had a spontaneity that is not present in Cassatt's work. Perry was first a devoted wife and mother to her three daughters, and painted essentially for her own satisfaction. In contrast, for Mary Cassatt, who never married, painting was her life's pursuit. It is known that, although painting was not the major force in Perry's life, portrait work was a very important factor. Later in her career, when she had established a reputation for her portrait work, commissions from those works became a valued source of livelihood for the Perry family. In 1898, the Perry family moved to Japan when Thomas accepted a professorship in Tokyo. During the three years they lived in Japan, Lilla painted over 80 canvases of Japanese people and settings. Her style was calligraphic, as she rarely made preliminary drawings. Her tendency was to work with a brush directly on the surface of the painting. She often applied her pigment with long, thin strokes, allowing the canvas to remain visible between each stripe of color. Brilliant colors and linear style became her signature Impressionistic approach. In 1914 Perry was one of the founding members of the Guild of Boston Artists, which included many of the most prominent artists of the time. It was with the guild that Lilla Cabot Perry exhibited for the last part of her life. The Perry's purchased a summer home in Hancock, New Hampshire, in 1903. It was there that Perry lived and painted for the years just prior to her death in February, 1933. A memorial exhibition of Lilla Cabot Perry's work was held in October of that same year-- presented by the guild she helped to create. True masters of her time had admired Perry's work. Monet had given her insight into his methods, shared tips and given her advice during the time of their friendship, with Perry promoting Monet through private exhibitions. Pissarro, whom she met through Monet, schooled her in his methods and shared an ever-expanding knowledge of materials and applications. She was revered by two of the great Impressionists and, although she could have been the most famous and celebrated American woman Impressionist, chose to be a wife and mother first and a painter and poet second. It could be said that Lilla Cabot Perry had it all - reasonable fame and recognition within her own lifetime in a creative avenue that gave her deep personal satisfaction and a warm, close family life. Works by Lilla Cabot Perry can be seen in museums throughout the United States. Web sites with images of Perry's work include: www.artcyclopedia.com (links to artists' works in museums) and www.nmwa.org (National Museum of Women in the Arts - who chose Perry's work for their inaugural poster, "Woman With a Bowl of Violets").

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