The Black Hat
oil on canvas
50 1/4 in. x 36 1/4 in. (127.64 cm x 92.08 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Albert Levitt, Anita English and Mrs. Cecil B. Lyon,
Lilla Cabot Perry
Lilla Cabot Perry's contribution to the arts in turn-of-the century New England was twofold. She was one of the first American artists to admire and promote the work of the French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) among Boston patrons of the arts, and she also was an early practitioner of his style. Beginning in 1889, she spent many summers painting with him at Giverny and, in that year, brought one of his paintings, a view of Etretat, to Boston. She was one of Monet's principal advocates in New England, crediting him with "having opened the eyes not merely of France but of the whole world to the real aspects of nature and having led them along the path of beauty, truth, and light." Perry was extremely well-connected-she was related to the Cabots, Jacksons, and Lowells-and in part because of her influence, by the 1890s, many of the most socially prominent Bostonians owned paintings by Monet.
Perry was more than just the artist's friend and patron; she was also his disciple. After a period of study at the academies Julian and Colarossi in Paris, where she was trained in the French academic manner, she went to Giverny and learned to paint in a radically different style-Monet's dazzling Impressionism. Her landscapes were among the first produced by a Boston school painter to emulate the light-drenched, pastel-colored style of the French painter; at the same time, in her figural compositions and society portraiture, she blended Impressionism with French academic techniques.
The painting The Black Hat is one of a group of images of women that Perry produced during the second decade of the twentieth century. In several of these works, her subjects wear elaborate hats that both shade their eyes and draw attention to their thoughtful expressions. Like other artists associated with the Boston school, such as Edmund Tarbell (q.v.), Perry often had family members, particularly her three daughters, pose for her; she also used professional models. For this painting, she may have employed the same wide-eyed, high-cheekboned model who appears in Lady with a Bowl of Violets (ca. 1910, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC).
Like her male counterparts Frank Benson (q.v.) and Edmund Tarbell (q.v.), Perry became well known for such idealized images of women. Interestingly, except for an aura of sexuality sometimes found in Benson's and Tarbell's pictures, there seems to be little difference between the men's approach to their female subjects and Perry's. Artists of the Boston school, whether male or female, tended to present women as personifications of an aesthetic ideal and showed their subjects as decorative, ladylike, and occupied with such genteel feminine pursuits as playing music, arranging flowers, or simply meditating, as here. The women in these pictures generally wear stylish clothing-this sitter is wearing a handsome, lace-trimmed black gown, a simple strand of pearls, and a large velvet hat-but they are not merely fashion plates. Perry, in particular, frequently showed them to be contemplative, even melancholy. Here, the woman's thoughtful gesture of hand to face, her averted eyes, and her complicated, compressed pose (she sits, somewhat hunched over, on a rather diminutive settee) cause the viewer to wonder at her thoughts, even as she seems unaware of the presence of any onlooker.
Meredith Martindale et al. Lilla Cabot Perry: An American Impressionist. Ex. cat. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, 1990.
1987 Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH, "Art & Artists: New England Women as Artists, as Subjects 1820-1920." Nov. 18 - Dec. 11.
1995-1997 "American Art from the Currier Gallery of Art." Organized by the Currier Gallery of Art and the American Federation of Arts. Traveled to: Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL, Dec. 3, 1995 - Jan. 28, 1996; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL, Mar. 15 - Apr. 7, 1996; Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA, Aug. 10 - Oct. 13, 1996; The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, Feb. 2 - Mar. 30, 1997; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Apr. 25 - June 22, 1997; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, July 18 - Sept. 8, 1997, cat. no. 27.
2000 Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, "Completing the Picture: Hats, Fashion, and Fine Art." March 28 - Sept. 24.
2017 Currier Museum of Art. "Monet: Pathways to Impressionism" July 1- Nov. 13.
Mrs. Albert Levitt, Anita English and Mrs. Cecil Lyon (granddaughters of the artist)
Gift to Currier Gallery of Art, 1982