The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 9th Floor New York City, NY 10022 , United States Call Seller 212.535.8810

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The Sculptor

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  • Description
    The outward trappings of Lilla Cabot Perry's biography fit so seamlessly the definition of a genteel Brahmin life that it comes as a shock that this New England wife and mother was among the major American artists of her generation. Perry was absolutely serious about her art, but with an ingrained sense of personal modesty which meant that, for many years, her substantial achievements were a matter of only local acclaim. It is still the case today that the viewer has to seek out Perry and study her work, which is neither formulaic nor conservative, but commands attention with its quiet elegance and the force of Perry's own vision and consummate skill.

    The artist was Boston born and bred, the eldest of the eight children of Samuel Cabot, a physician, and his wife, Hannah Lowell Cabot. (For the most recent and comprehensive discussion of Perry and her work, see Meredith Martindale, Lilla Cabot Perry: An American Impressionist, exhib. cat. [The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1990].) The Cabot house on Park Square was a gathering place for Boston abolitionists and intellectuals, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and James Russell Lowell. Young Lilla was, by report, an outstanding student, mastering Latin and Greek as well as learning to speak French, German, and Italian. She wrote poetry all her life and published three volumes of poems. In 1874 the blue-stocking Miss Cabot married Thomas Sergeant Perry, a devoted scholar, who was, at that time, a junior faculty member at Harvard.

    The Perrys and Cabots moved in the same world. On his maternal side Thomas Perry was a great-great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin; while the Perrys of Newport, Rhode Island, produced a number of ships' captains and military men including two particularly noted sailors—Thomas's grandfather, Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, and his great-uncle, the famous Commodore Matthew Perry. Thomas Perry was born and raised in Newport, and shared a close childhood friendship with Henry James, the brother of Lilla Cabot's school mate, Alice James. Perry graduated from Harvard College in 1866, and traveled in Europe before returning to Cambridge. An author and literary scholar, he was noted among his circle of friends for his passion for books, and is credited today with bringing the work of Mark Twain to wide attention. He was a good friend of William Dean Howells and a mentor to Hamlin Garland and Bernard Berenson. Although the young couple may have been ideally suited in temperament, interests, and background, theirs was not a union of financial fortunes. Despite a promising beginning, professional success eluded Thomas Perry, and during their long and happy marriage modest amounts of family money were supplemented by Lilla's career in art to account for much of their income.

    Lilla Perry did not begin to paint seriously until she was thirty-six years old. By that time she was the mother of three daughters. Initially studying privately in Boston with Alfred Quentin Collins and Robert Vonnoh, in 1886 Perry enrolled at the Cowles School, where she continued her studies with Dennis Miller Bunker, who had recently returned from Paris. In that same year, Thomas Perry decided to take his family to the French capital for two years. In Paris, Lilla Perry enrolled at the Académie Colarossi. Her process of self-education continued at the Louvre, to which she was accompanied by Thomas Perry's Cambridge protégé, Bernard Berenson. The family traveled to London, as well as to Spain, Italy, and Germany, affording Lilla Cabot Perry the opportunity to do the kind of traveling and studying that was the habitual pattern for young American male artists in search of European training. Perry toured the London galleries, copied Velázquez at the Prado, saw the fabled works of the old masters in Italy, and studied for two months in Munich with the German social realist, Fritz von Uhde.

    When the family returned to Paris in the autumn of 1888, Perry continued her training with Tony Robert-Fleury at the Académie Julian. In 1889, with the encouragement of her artistic mentor in Paris, the American expatriate artist Walter Gay, Perry successfully submitted two portraits—one of her husband, Thomas, and the other of her daughter, Edith—to the French salon. In May 1889 Perry was accepted into Alfred Stevens' atelier for female artists, considered the most serious training available for female painters. In that same spring, the Perrys visited a Monet-Rodin exhibition where Perry saw Monet's impressionist works. The effect was electrifying and was the catalyst for Perry's decision to visit Claude Monet at Giverny.

    Lilla Cabot Perry's connection with Monet and Giverny was close and profound (see William H. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony [New York, 1994]). The family arrived in Giverny in June 1889 and remained until they returned to the United States in November. They returned to Giverny eight more times over the course of the next twenty years. For some of their time in Giverny the Perrys rented the cottage next door to Monet and enjoyed neighborly relations with the venerable French master. This stands in marked contrast with the general experience of the American art colony in Giverny, whose interaction with the father of Impressionism was negligible to non-existent. Lilla and Thomas Perry were enthusiastic about Monet's work and attempted to spread that enthusiasm when they returned home to Boston. Among their immediate acquaintances, only two of Thomas's brothers-in-law showed any interest: Dr. William Pepper, who purchased a Monet that the Perry's had brought home, and the painter, John La Farge, who was married to Thomas's older sister, Margaret.

    Thomas Perry, despite a brilliant beginning, never enjoyed the Boston academic or scholarly career to which he had aspired. Denied tenure at Harvard, he remained a somewhat marginalized and under-appreciated cultural critic. This prompted him, periodically, to seek the more congenial ambiance of the American community in France. The Perrys were in Giverny again from June through November of 1891. After that the family remained in the United States for almost three years. In 1893 Lilla Perry showed seven works at the World's Columbian Exhibition. All were figural studies of girls or young women. The Perrys returned to Europe in 1894, and remained there until 1897, spending summers in Giverny and winters in Paris.

    In 1899, Thomas Perry accepted a two-year teaching appointment in Japan, where the family lived until 1901. After years of being exposed globally, albeit indirectly, to the influence of Japanese art, the actual experience of Japan had a profound and enduring effect on Perry. She painted many pictures while living in Japan and continued to explore Japanese themes thereafter. In 1903 the Perrys bought a home in Hancock, New Hampshire, as a summer retreat. But a lifetime of travel never weakened Lilla Cabot Perry's identification as a Boston painter, and the family maintained its principal residence in Boston, where Lilla Perry was a founder and the first secretary of the Guild of Boston Artists, established in 1914. She remained, in fact, essentially a New England painter, exhibiting principally at the Guild of Boston Artists; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Worcester Art Museum; the Art Association of Newport; and the Portland Society of Art; as well as further afield at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Her New York exposure was minimal; in her entire career she showed only three works at the National Academy of Design. Perry painted both figural studies and landscapes, with the landscapes tending to be the fruits of her summers in the country, accomplished in a style influenced by Impressionism and her years at Giverny. With regard to figural work, Perry was not so much interested in portraiture as in character study. Many of her figural works are of her family—self-portraits or studies of her husband and three daughters engaged in various genteel pursuits. Her portraits tend to be of friends and members of the Boston intelligentsia, although she did undertake portrait commissions to provide a needed source of income.
  • More Information
    Documentation: Signed
    Period: 19th Century
    Materials: Oil on canvas
    Condition: Excellent.
    Styles / Movements: Impressionism
    Dealer Reference #: APG 12429D
    Incollect Reference #: 215084
  • Dimensions
    W. 25 in; H. 30 in;
    W. 63.5 cm; H. 76.2 cm;
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