Lilla Perry was born in Boston in 1848, the oldest of eight children in the family of the distinguished surgeon Samuel Cabot and his wife, Hannah Lowell Jackson Cabot. A member of Boston's elite Brahmin class, Perry grew up in an atmosphere of refinement and gentility. Perry strengthened her impressive family lineage in 1874 when she married Thomas Sargeant Perry, a noted critic and scholar of eighteenth century literature.
Although Lilla Perry took up art during the late 1870s, she remained self-taught until the mid-1880s, when she received critiques from Alfred Q. Collins, one of Boston's finest portraitists. She also studied privately under Robert Vonnoh and attended the Cowles Art School, where Dennis Miller Bunker taught her.
In 1887, Perry and her husband traveled to Paris, accompanied by their three young daughters. While Thomas Perry established himself among the community of American writers that included William Dean Howells, Lilla attended classes at the Academies Julian and Colarossi and studied privately with Alfred Stevens. She also spent two months in Munich, working with the social realist painter, Fritz von Uhde. During this period, she employed an academic style inspired by the example of her teachers as well as by the Old Master tradition.
The Perrys spent the summer of 1889 in Giverny, the small agricultural hamlet located on the banks of the Seine about forty miles northwest of Paris. A thriving art colony, having been discovered only two years earlier by a group of artists that included Bostonians John Leslie Breck and Theodore Wendel, Giverny provided plein air painters with a lush, rural landscape bathed in the soft, blue-green light of Normandy. Giverny was also the home of Claude Monet, the master of French Impressionism. In contrast to the majority of Anglo-American artists who summered in Giverny, Lilla Perry was one of the few painters admitted into Monet's inner circle. She quickly became a close friend and was deeply influenced by his broken brushwork and high-keyed palette.
Lilla Perry returned to Boston in 1890, bringing with her one of Monet's views of Etretat as well as a collection of colorful Giverny canvases by John Leslie Breck. Intent on fostering Impressionism, she encouraged her fellow Bostonians to patronize Monet and arranged for a public exhibition of Breck's canvases at the St. Botolph Club. She resided in Giverny during the summers of 1891, 1894-97, 1906, 1907, and 1909, and became an important proselytizer on behalf of Monet, giving lectures and writing articles on his work. Her essay, "Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909," published in the American Magazine of Art in 1927, remains a principal source of information on Monet's Giverny period. Throughout her career, Perry continued to explore Impressionist strategies in her landscapes, but adhered to a more conservative approach in her portrait and figure work.
Lilla Perry had her first solo exhibition in Boston in 1897 at the St. Botolph Club. She also exhibited her work in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, at the prestigious Paris salons in 1889, 1895, 1896, and 1897, at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (1915).