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Lilla Cabot Perry and portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson

The artist of the most frequently reproduced portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson was known professionally as Lilla Cabot Perry (1848–1933). She was born as Lydia Cabot, a daughter of the prominent Boston surgeon, Dr. Samuel Cabot. In 1874 she married Thomas Sergeant Perry (1845–1928), author, scholar, and educator, whose biography in The Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 14, pages 493–4, was written by Robinson. Robinson later edited a volume of correspondence for a publication, Selections from the Letters of Thomas Sergeant Perry (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929). Robinson annually had extended visits with the Perrys at their summer retreat, “Flagstones,” at Hancock in the New Hampshire mountains and at their Boston residence. The best survey of Mrs. Perry’s work is Meredith Martindale and Pamela Moffat, Lilla Cabot Perry: An American Impressionist (Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1990).

The Lilla Cabot Perry portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson was executed during seventeen days in July 1916 in Hancock, New Hampshire, followed by two brief sittings later that year in September and October in Boston. It is an oil on canvas, 40 by 30 inches. It was given to Special Collections, Miller Library, Colby College, Waterville, Maine, by Miss Margaret Perry, daughter of the artist.

The appearance of the cigar in the Perry portrait of Robinson is one of artistic license. Robinson smoked Sweet Caporal cigarettes, never cigars. Boston Brahmin that she was, Mrs. Perry substituted the cigar in an attempt to make the poet look like a member of the gentry.

Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson by Lilla Cabot Perry, 1916. Courtesy of Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, Maine.

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