LILLA CABOT PERRY (1848–1933)
Un Jour de Pluie, 1896
Oil on canvas, 55 x 29 3/4 in.
Signed and dated (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—her lengthiest and most productive trip—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. Alice appears in many of her mother’s paintings, among them Portrait Study of a Child (1891; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri) and Young Bicyclist (circa 1894–95; private collection).
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.
We are instantly drawn to Alice's expression in Un Jour de Pluie, which bears an an unmistakable look of wistful 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. 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.