Fresh outdoor light breezes through Lilla Cabot Perry’s dappled gardens and shadowy rooms, forming powdery puffs of pale blue, lilac and green. Sheaths of icy lavender like that of SILVER LILAC Linen streak through them and cross clothing, trees and rooftops, invoking the tart, biting freshness of morning. A leader in 19th century Impressionism, Perry is credited with bringing radical French ideas to her native United States and her erstwhile home in Japan, carrying a passion for colour, light and the alchemy of paint across the continents.
Perry was born in 1848 and grew up in the culturally rich city of Boston, where she developed an early aptitude for poetry and art. After marrying Thomas Perry in 1874 she went on to have three children; Margaret, Edith and Alice, who would become the primary subjects of her paintings. Although she first began painting in the 1870s, Perry would not start her artistic training in Boston until ten years later, at the age of 36. Travelling with her family across Europe would be the most formative period of her career, particularly when they settled in Paris for two years from 1887-1889. Here Perry took on various art courses and first encountered the art of Claude Monet, whose pale, sparkling sunlight would leave a profound and long-lasting impression.
Perry sought out Monet in his wild home at Giverny and the pair forged a lifelong friendship founded on a mutual passion for Impressionist en plein air painting. Even after returning to live in Boston with her family, Perry returned again and again in the Summer months to stay in Giverny near Monet’s house, seeking out his guidance and mimicking the pale freshness and light air of her surroundings onto canvas.
Open Air Concert, 1890 was painted at a friend’s house in Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston following Perry’s return to the United States, but the influence of both Monet and the landscape of Giverny is clear to see in the background of the painting as trees and grass become a flurried haze of shimmering brushstrokes. In the foreground, Perry’s three young daughters wear cool, fresh shades of blue and lilac, lending them a dreamy, melancholic quality that is echoed in their distant expressions. In the later Self Portrait, 1896, Perry drenches herself in a loose-fitting lavender gown that ripples with undulating paint as light and fresh as ice cream while shadows pool into darkness in the background.
When Perry’s husband was offered a teaching job in Japan, the family relocated there for several years. Perry continued to paint with the same lightness of touch but she also absorbed influences from the patterns and designs of Japanese prints and paintings, particularly adopting their high contrast imagery and cropped compositions. The Trio, Tokyo, Japan, 1901 combines oriental flat areas of solid black with her trademark pastel tones, making them all the more dazzling and brilliant. The pale toned clothing of her almost-grown-up daughters emphasises their purity and innocence, while light violet in the right brings ripe, almost sour sweetness to the scene.
In her later years Perry and her family settled on a farm in New Hampshire, but between 1905 and 1909 she continued to spend Summer holidays in Giverny near Monet. Autumn Afternoon, Giverny, 1905 was made during one of these visits, capturing the countryside’s bristling, cool light with interspliced shades of mint green and fresh lavender in lively, expressive brushstrokes. Perry also painted By the Brook, Giverny, France (Woman in Pink Dress), 1909 during a visit to Giverny, situating her female lead amidst the lush green countryside, while allowing her fragrantly tinged, unashamedly feminine dress to fill the centre stage with hazy violet light.