|American Masterpieces from Dryads Green Gallery
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Artist Name: Lilla Cabot Perry
Artist Dates: 1848 - 1933
Painting Title: Lady in a Kimono
Painting Date: ca. 1902
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Provenance: Private Collection
Size Unframed: 32 x 26
Frame Condition: Antique Very Good
Artist Best Price: $115,000
Offered At: CALL
Curator's Comments: The model for Perry's Lady in a Kimono is her daughter Alice (b. 1884) who
was a frequent subject and whose photographs (at Harvard and elsewhere) make this identification
abundantly clear. Perry painted all her children, including Margaret (b. 1876), the eldest, and Edith (b.
1880), the middle child. The children were painted individually and in at least two group works, notably
The Trio (1899), which hangs in Harvard's Fogg Museum, and which shows Margaret with violin, Edith
with her cello and Alice at the piano. The Trio is set in the drawing room of Perry's residence during
her 3-year stay in Japan (1898-1900), and it is significant that while her older sisters are dressed in
Victorian white, Alice wears an Asian design, with her hair pulled into a single Oriental braid. She was
15 at the time, and it is recorded that she was fascinated with things Japanese.
Alice was Perry's most frequent model but not because she was the most beautiful of the girls, not
even because her hauteur and gaze perfectly matched Perry's intent to reveal the Boston Brahmin
maiden. The more important reason is that Alice's human development fitted with the timing of her
mother's artistic development. Perry didn't paint the first daughter, Margaret, until 1878, a year after
her artistic training took her to Paris. Then came the early years as Monet's summer neighbor in
Giverny (1888-1898), when Perry's art flourished and Alice literally entered the picture. She is the
perfect model for The Letter (1893), which expresses what Meredith Martindale calls, one of the
trademarks of her portrait style, which is a focus on the empty, wistful gaze that Martindale connects
particularly to Botticelli, though we see Rossetti (and his Damozel) as another source. As Martindale
puts it, "solitariness and high moral innuendos go hand in hand throughout Perry's oeuvre." There is
nobility as well, as in the portrait of Alice as The Young Bicyclist (1895), which captures qualities from
Perry's Portrait of the Baroness von R. done at the same time.
But there is never sensuality. Perry was of Boston's Brahmin caste, and later knew the scandal caused
by the unveiling of Frederick MacMonies' nude sculpture Bacchante with Infant in the courtyard of the
Boston Public Library, which was removed after being denounced as the glorification of that which is
low and sensual and degrading. We know that after resuming her visits to Giverny (1905-1909), but
only to find the American painter Frederick Freiseke in her usual rental residence alongside Monet's
own house bothered Perry, but his introduction of models from Paris who were painted nude in the
garden almost on the other side of Monet's wall was resented even more. There is no nudity in Perry.
She favored the first generation of Americans at Giverny, the two Theo's, Robinson and Butler, and
Breck and Bunker and her earlier teacher Vonnoh, not the second generation, and like most of her
fellow Tarbellites, she deliberately avoided sexual suggestion in her representations of young
That's one reason why Alice is no longer a Perry subject after 1905. She grew up and was soon married.
Daughter Edith appears a few times in idealized works from the second Giverny period, and the
spinster elder daughter Margaret is seen in two later-dated works. But from 1909 to her death, Perry
generally used models for her figural work, particularly the child called Hildegard. As Martindale puts
it, "her daughters were past childhood and thus could no longer serve as the models upon which her
reputation was established." Fortunately, or not, Perry thought of herself as a pleine air landscape
painter, on Monet's recommendation, concentrating on the French country side, Mt Fuji in Japan (in
more than two-dozen works) and Mt Monadnock, near her Hancock, New Hampshire final residence.
She painted Boston society portraits for money, a la Benson and Paxton, but, as with Sargent, her
portraits ended up much better than she thought of them, especially those of her own children. And
certainly Perry knew Sargent and his work and especially his 1888 first portrait of Isabella Stewart
Gardner, where the flattened Japanese effect is already present.
The single most recognized portrait of Alice Perry is the award-winning Lady with the Violet Corsage
finished in 1903, and part of a burst of work centered on her between her engagement and marriage.
Alice is a young woman of 19, and she will be married in 1905 to the young diplomat Joseph Clark
Grew. But as early as her engagement in 1904, the Lady with the Violet Corsage was retitled as the
Portrait of Mrs. J. C. Grew. And in that year or the next, Perry will also do the pastels of Alice known as
the Lady in the White Hat and the Lady in Black (in the Smithsonian and not to be confused with
another work of the same title), which we think are the last renditions of Alice as subject. In these two
final works, Perry recaptured the expressionless hauteur she wanted, but in the portrait of Alice as
Mrs. Grew, the sensual element reflected in Alice's womanhood could not be entirely repressed--there
is a fullness at the breast and an erotic defiance in the posture that contribute to the work's power.
Alice with her violin is to the right, At left is daughter Edith with her cello. Center we show Sargent's first portrait of
Isabella Stewart Gardner--Perry introduced Gardner to Monet at Giverny, where Sargent had painted him in 1887.