6.7.13 Anna Plesset

Video: Lilla Cabot Perry sketchbook, 1871-1885. Owned by Lilla Grew Levitt; microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [Microfilm reel 3681]., 2013, 2:20

In June 2011, I packed up the contents of my studio apartment in Providence and spent the summer in Giverny, France as a fellow in the Terra Summer Residency Program. Upon settling into my studio with half-timbered walls and a large northern facing window, I quickly learned that it once belonged to Lilla Cabot Perry (b. January 13, 1848), an American Impressionist who began painting in her thirties and lived with her husband and three daughters in Giverny throughout the 1890s. During that time, Perry became a serious, successful and recognized artist who developed a close friendship with Claude Monet, her neighbor and mentor.

Even though she received much recognition in her lifetime, Perry’s artistic merits have largely been overlooked and seemingly eclipsed by her distinct role as a link between the American and French artists at the end of the 19th century. Taken by my discovery of Perry, whose life and work would have remained invisible to me if not for chance, I was reminded of the illusion that history presents. How lucky I was that I experienced a moment of discovery that altered my conception of reality and brought to life a person who, for me, would otherwise never have existed. Upon my return to the U.S., I unfolded a floor plan I drew just before leaving my studio in Giverny and began recreating through painting and sculpture the objects and fragments through which my initial discovery took place.

My research on Perry has led me in many directions: to the New York Public Library, where I’ve been scrolling through microfilm reels on loan from the Archives of American Art, and most recently to her home and studio in Hancock, New Hampshire, where she lived and painted until the day she died.

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