One of the foremost genre painters of his day, Enoch Wood Perry worked in an academic realist style that reflected the legacy of his training in the art schools of Düsseldorf and Paris. He was also a talented portraitist, whose list of clients included prominent figures from the worlds of politics and religion.
Perry was born in Boston on July 31st 1831, the son of Enoch Wood Perry, the owner of a grate and fender shop, and his wife, Hannah Knapp Dole Perry. During the mid-1840s, the family moved to New Orleans, where Perry’s father operated a hardware store. Upon completing his schooling, Perry worked as a clerk at Pickett, Perkins and Company from 1848 until 1852, when he travelled to Europe to study art. He initially went to Düsseldorf, attending classes at the Düsseldorf Academy and studying with the painter, Emanuel Leutze, who taught him the importance of solid draftsmanship, high finish, and careful modeling of the figure. In the autumn of 1854, Perry went to Paris to study in the atelier of Thomas Couture, a popular teacher who advocated a broad, sketchy style and the use of bold contrasts of light and dark. Following this, he relocated to Venice, where, through an arrangement made by his father––by now a prosperous businessman with influential friends in the political world––he served as the United States Consul (1856-1858), a position that left him with ample time to paint views of the city. While residing in Venice, Perry made visits to Düsseldorf and Rome, fraternizing with a coterie of American painters that included William Stanley Haseltine, Worthington Whittredge, and Albert Bierstadt, as well as the sculptor, Thomas Crawford.
After returning to the United States in 1858, Perry was active in Philadelphia and New Orleans. During these years, he established a reputation as a portraitist, painting likenesses of noted political figures such as Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant. In 1862, he settled in San Francisco and continued his activity as a portraitist. He also made painting trips to Yosemite (with the aforementioned Bierstadt, and another painter, Virgil Williams) and to other parts of northern California. In 1864 he visited Hawaii, where he painted views of island scenery, as well as portraits of royal dignitaries such as Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Leiopapa. The following year, Perry executed a number of portrait commissions in Salt Lake City, Utah, including a likeness of the Mormon leader, Brigham Young.
In 1866, Perry settled permanently in New York City, initially working out of Bierstadt’s studio in the legendary Tenth Street Studio Building. He continued to paint portraits but was best known for his quiet depictions of daily life, many of which, such as Talking It Over (1872; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), focused on aspects of rural America. Painted in a realist style that was influenced by his cosmopolitan training, as well as his knowledge of the English and Dutch genre traditions, Perry’s oils were well-received by the art world; indeed, he was elected an associate member of the venerable National Academy of Design in 1868 and an academician in 1869. In 1875, a writer for the Art Journal noted the artist’s “delicacy of expression” and observed that “Mr. Perry . . . occupies a position very nearly at the head of our genre painters”––a group of artists that included painters such as Eastman Johnson and Winslow Homer. Perry’s professional affiliations also included the Century Association, the American Watercolor Society and the Artists’ Aid Society.
With the exception of a second sojourn in San Francisco from about 1878 to 1882, New York City remained Perry’s primary base of operation. He remained a bachelor until 1899, when he married the writer, Fanny Field Hering, after which time the couple spent their summers in Sandwich, New Hampshire.
Perry died in New York City on December 14th 1915. Examples of his work can be found in many public collections, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; the Bishop Museum, Honolulu; the Honolulu Academy of Arts; the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans; the Oakland Museum; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
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