“A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognise it?” - Ernst Haas
Lilla Cabot Perry (born January 13, 1848, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died February 28, 1933, Hancock, New Hampshire), was an American artist who was much influenced by the innovations of French Impressionism. She was also a major promoter of Impressionism in the United States. Lilla Cabot was a descendant not only of the “Boston Brahmin” Cabot family but also of the equally distinguished Lowells. In 1874 she married Thomas Sergeant Perry, a professor of 18th-century literature at Harvard University. The couple had three daughters, who would become frequent models for their mother’s paintings. The Perry home became an intellectual salon for such writers as Henry James and William Dean Howells and for Lilla Perry’s brother-in-law, artist John La Farge. It may have been the latter who urged her to study painting.
Starting with private lessons in 1886, she attended the Cowles School of Art in Boston. She and her family traveled to Paris in June 1867. On this trip abroad Perry studied at the Académie Julian and at the Académie Colarossi with the English painter Alfred Stevens. The most important influence on her artistic development, however, came from her relationship with the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. For many years the Perry family summered in Giverny, France, near Monet’s home, and he became a friend and mentor to Perry. Monet suggested that Perry commit her first impression of a scene to canvas rather than to sketchbook. Through such lessons Perry mastered Impressionist techniques.
After returning to Boston with one of Monet’s images of Etretat, France, Perry encouraged American interest in him and the other Impressionists by lecturing and publishing essays on the movement and by urging her friends to purchase Monet’s paintings. From 1893 to 1901, Perry lived in Tokyo where her husband taught English literature. During this period she painted more than 80 pictures of Japanese scenes, incorporating Japanese and Chinese painting techniques into her work. Like other Impressionists, she found subjects for her painting both in landscapes and in ordinary daily activities. The paintings of her later period feature landscapes near Hancock, New Hampshire.
Much of her work involves portraits and in this respect some of her work is reminiscent of Mary Cassat’s portraits, although Perry’s work is a little more formal and restrained, without the fluidity of line, the immediacy and joyousness of Cassat’s work. Perry’s landscapes show the most affinity to those of the impressionists and more particularly those of her teacher and mentor, Monet.
The painting above, “A Stream Beneath Poplars” painted circa 1890-1900 (oil on canvas 25 3/4 x 32 inches signed lower left Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart P. Feld 1973) is exhibited in the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It shows the impressionist style that Perry absorbed from Monet and the scene is reminiscent of Monet’s Giverny paintings. Lilla Cabot Perry is second only to Mary Cassatt as a recognised woman Impressionist painter and her activities in popularizing impressionist art in the USA cannot be underestimated.