Alexander Mann showed early artistic talent and was taking art lessons from the headmaster of Glasgow School of Art by the time he was ten. His adult life was recorded in a succession of sketchbooks in which he captured elements of his fairly frequent foreign travels as well as his domestic life. In 1877 he settled in Paris to pursue his art education, as many of his contemporaries, such as John Lavery and Walter Osborne, were doing. In Paris he studied the work of the influential Bastien-Lepage, who led the movement towards painting rustic scenes as objectively and realistically as possible. Mann's painting La Fileuse de Perles was accorded an Honourable Mention at the Salon in 1885, an honour slightly marred by the the Royal Glasgow Institute of Art's removal of the certificate when the painting came to Scotland. Only after acrimonious public debate did they eventually agree to acknowledge the award. Two years later Mann settled in Berkshire. Many of his happiest and most successful paintings depict his family and friends at West Hagbourne and later at Blewbury, such as the present work of his daughter, Mary, aged six. In it, Mann combines his love of the plein-air theme and the effect of the sunlight, adding a touch of humour by dressing the young girl in an adult's hat which is far too big for her.
Martin Hopkinson writes, 'His drawings like his paintings express the character of the man that is revealed in the correspondence, an honest personality with great sympathy for the natural landscape and affection for the young' (see M. Hopkinson, (introduction) Alexander Mann Sketches and correspondence with his wife and family, London, 1985).