LILLA CABOT PERRY (1848–1933)
Un Jour de Pluie, 1896
Oil on canvas, 55 x 29 3/4 in.
Signed, dated and inscribed (at lower right): L. C. Perry ’96
EXHIBITED: (probably) St. Botolph Club, Boston, November 10–27, 1897, An Exhibition of Paintings by Mrs. T. S. Perry, no 8 as “A Rainy Day” // (probably) Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, January 10–February 22, 1898, Sixty-Seventh Annual Exhibition, no. 345 as “A Rainy Day”
EX COLL.: the artist; to her estate, 1933–82; [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 1982]; to private collection, 1982 until the present
During an extended visit to France from 1894 to 1897, Perry painted Un Jour de Pluie, one of her variations on the girl in the window theme. The work, which remained with Perry’s descendants until 1982, features one of Lilla’s daughters, who served as her primary models during the 1890s. Although her depictions of her offspring function as portraits of record as much as genre pieces, Perry had no interest in identifying the sitters, preferring to use suggestive and impersonal titles, as is the case here. The fact that Un Jour de Pluie was once owned by Cecil B. Lyon, a diplomat and former Ambassador to Chile and Sri Lanka who had been married to Alice’s daughter, Elizabeth (Elsie) Sturgis Grew, indicates that it is likely Perry’s youngest child who is portrayed in the work at age fourteen.
Perry typically posed her models in front of or beside an open window, thus allowing her to conjoin her interest in rendering the figure with her dual concern for landscape. However, in Un Jour de Pluie, the curtains are closed, the diaphanous fabric emitting a subdued aura of light that illuminates the wall and portions of the pretty model. While images of attractive children are part and parcel of impressionist iconography, Perry interpreted the theme in her own unique way, depicting her subjects not as carefree and innocent beings playing in idyllic outdoor settings, but as serious, intelligent, and sometimes wistful individuals usually shown alone, sometimes holding a book or a musical instrument. Perry was highly attuned to children’s emotions and states of mind, a skill that was duly noted by contemporary commentators such as Carolyn Hilman and Jean Nutting Oliver, who declared: “It is in her portrayal of childhood and youth that ... [Perry] excels ... she captures and understands their moods” (Carolyn Hilman and Jean Nutting Oliver, “Lilla Cabot Perry––Painter and Poet,” American Magazine of Art 14 [November 1923], p. 603).
Hilman and Nutting’s comments would certainly apply to paintings such as Un Jour de Pluie, for we are instantly drawn to the subject’s face, which bears an expression of boredom and resignation as if, confined indoors due to the inclement weather, she has no choice but to indulge her mother’s desire to paint her likeness. The location of the scene is not known; it could have been painted at Le Hameau or in Perry’s Parisian residence, which in 1896 was 42, rue Galilée. In keeping with her approach to rendering the figure, Perry carefully defines the girl’s physiognomy, giving special emphasis to her heart-shaped face, wide-set eyes, and pouting lips. Perry also favored strong contrasts of light and shadow in her in portraits, as evident here, the dark earth tones of the furnishings acting as a foil to the luminous blues, mauves, pinks, and greens that dominate the upper register of the composition.
Un Jour de Pluie is likely the painting titled A Rainy Day exhibited in Perry’s one-man show at the St. Botolph Club in November 1897. The exhibition was well-received in local art circles, the writer for the Boston Evening Transcript identifying Perry as:
One of the most genuine, no-nonsense, natural painters we know of ... Mrs. Perry’s models are her own daughters, and although the pictures are portraits, they are more than that alone, since there is in each work a thought which goes beyond the idea of likeness to the individual, and is in a sense typical and of universal interest.... The portraits are good in all essential regards: no acquaintance with the sitters is needed to assure the observer of their fidelity and intimacy of characterization (“The Fine Arts. Exhibition of Mrs. Perry’s Paintings at the St. Botolph Club,” Boston Evening Transcript, November 11, 1897).