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One Monet Painting was a Life Changing Moment for Lilla Cabot Perry

Lilla Cabot Perry was an American artist, who picked up painting as an adult, at the age of 36. She viewed her first impressionism painting at the age of 41 during a trip to Paris. The painting she saw was by Claude Monet and it literally changed her life!

From that point on, Perry became an unwavering supporter of French impressionism. She fully embraced the Impressionism style, painting en-plein air, using a softer palette of colors and loosening her brushstrokes.

Lilla Cabot Perry Landscape - A Peach Tree
Lilla Cabot Perry Landscape – A Peach Tree

Early Life

Lydia (Lilla) Cabot was born January 13, 1848 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was a well known surgeon and the family associated with Boston’s progressive high society. Later the Perrys moved to a farm in Canton, Massachusetts. It is here where Lilla developed a love for nature & landscapes.

At the age of 26, Lilla married Thomas Sergeant Perry, a Harvard alumnus linguist and scholar. The couple had three daughters.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait
Thomas Sergeant Perry Reading a Newspaper
Lilla Cabot Perry Portrait

A Late Starter – Perry starts painting at Thirty-Six

In 1884, at the age of 36 Perry began taking formal art lessons. She studied under different respected artists. When her father passed away in 1885, she was left with a generous inheritance. This money allowed Perry to take her art even more seriously. She spent more time studying at schools and privately but focusing mainly on traditional art.

Monet Changed Perry’s Artistic Path

In 1889, when she was visiting a gallery in Paris, she had her first glimpse of a Monet painting. The Impressionism style was an epiphany moment for her. Perry immediately took to this style even though it was rejected and scorned by the art world around her.

That summer, Perry met Monet in his Giverny home for the first time. They struck up a firm friendship that lasted a lifetime. Perry described Monet as follows:

“His rugged honesty, his disarming frankness, his warm and sensitive nature…..`was fully as impressive as his pictures.”

Perry spent the summers in Giverny, hanging out with & learning from Monet

Over the next nine years, Lilla and her family spent the summer months in Giverny, renting a house next door to Monet. Giverny was full of American painters and tourists, but Monet kept away from them all, with the exception of the Perrys.

A Little Girl in a Lane in Giverny - Lilla Cabot Perry Painting
A Little Girl in a Lane in Giverny – Lilla Cabot Perry Painting

Monet never took in students formally but he happily became Perry’s mentor and provided her with artistic guidance.

Lilla Cabot Perry soaked up Monet’s ideas about colors and light. Responding to Monet’s advice, she changed her palette of colors and adopted his style more closely than any other American painter. It was during this period in Giverny that Lilla Cabot Perry fully blossomed as a painter.

Perry continued to study with other teachers as well. In Paris, she mixed in artistic circles and became good friends with Mary Cassatt and  Camille Pissarro.

A Snowy Monday - Lilla Cabot Perry Landscape
A Snowy Monday – Lilla Cabot Perry Landscape

Lilla Cabot Perry Brings French Impressionism back to America

Lilla Cabot Perry’s success grew both in France and in America. In 1894, she succeeded in exhibiting her impressionism paintings in Boston together with other artists. Three years later, and in the same gallery, she held a solo exhibition. This was a major turning point for Perry. It showed that her work was gaining acceptance by the American art world and that Impressionism was finally being acknowledged as a legitimate artistic expression.

In addition, Perry promoted Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro’s art in America by showcasing their paintings and urging her rich friends to buy their artworks.

Perry also lectured and published essays on the French impressionism art movement. Her continual support for the Impressionism art movement helped pave the way for other American Impressionists like Mary Cassatt.  

Perry’s Period in Japan – Fusing East & West onto her Canvases

When Perry’s husband receives a three year teaching position in Japan, Perry immediately involves herself in the artistic community. In October 1898 Perry holds an exhibition of her paintings and becomes an honorary member of the Nippon Bijutsu-In Art Association. Her style during this period incorporates and ties together both Western Impressionism and Eastern elements.

Fuji from the Canal - Lilla Cabot Perry Painting
Fuji from the Canal – Lilla Cabot Perry Painting

Lilla Cabot Perry – The Accomplished Writer

Lilla Cabot Perry published five volumes of poetry and a book entitled “Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909”. Her writings about Monet were first published in 1927 in the Magazine of Art  and continues today to be an important resource for Monet biographers.

She wrote the following words about Monet:

His real success lies in having opened the eyes … of the world to the real aspect of nature and having led them along the path of beauty, truth and light.”

In recognition of their special relationship, one of Lilla Cabot Perry’s paintings hangs in Monet’s home in Giverny. Look out for it!

Lilla Cabot Perry – One of the most prominent 19th century female trailblazers in the art world

Throughout Lilla Cabot Perry’s life, she showed that she was dedicated not only to her own personal artistic development but also to the careers of other artists around her.

Thanks to her tireless efforts and unwavering support, the Guild of Boston Artists was founded, French Impressionism became an acknowledged & respected art movement in the United States and a new generation of female painters were able to find their way in the male-dominated art world.

Lilla Cabot Perry was an exemplary female trailblazer for her time!

For more articles about trailblazing women in the Impressionism period, see the articles below: