Lilla Cabot Perry began her artistic training later in life, studying first in her native city of Boston and later at the Académies Colarossi and Julian in Paris, in addition to formal training in Munich and informal training in Italy, England, and Spain. Following her first encounter with Impressionism in a Paris gallery, Perry befriended Claude Monet and began summering in Giverny in a house adjacent to his. In addition to informally advising her work, Monet introduced her to a milieu that included Camille Pissarro and other Impressionist painters. For nearly a decade, Perry and her family spent summers in Giverny and winters in Paris, where the artist exhibited numerous works at the Paris Salon.
Among the numerous motifs she explored during the Paris years were interior scenes of domestic simplicity such as In the Studio. Throughout her career, Perry worked directly on the canvas rather than working through her subjects in preliminary drawings and oil sketches, and often used one of her three young daughters as her subjects. In the present work, the artist's daughter, Margaret, is shown engaged in the act of letter writing. The composed simplicity recalls Dutch genre scenes such as those by Johannes Vermeer that Perry would likely have copied during her European study trips. The solid wooden table at which Margaret sits is sparse save for a decorative blue and white mug and a violin, perhaps set aside to indicate that it is the young woman's next activity for the day. Margaret's keen posture and conservative garments complement the almost severe arrangement of objects, as well as the clean geometry and color-rich scheme of the deep brown floor, teal paneling, and sandy colored wall, barely off-set by the lush white petals of potted flowers. Perry has positioned her daughter towards a window hidden from the viewer, from which the cold light of a Paris afternoon creates a subtle shading effect across the canvas.
Like her contemporary, Mary Cassatt, Perry was instrumental in introducing Impressionism to America as well as to Japan, where her husband, Thomas Sargeant Perry, a renowned professor of 18th-century English literature, taught in Tokyo from 1898 to 1901. After returning to Boston, the Perry home became a gathering place for artists and writers such as Henry and William James, William Dean Howells, and other luminaries, whose artistic pursuits she nurtured alongside her own.