After her training in Paris under William Bouguereau and Carolus-Duran, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies of St. Louis won universal fame with Primitive Woman, one of the two monumental murals that adorned the Hall of Honor in the Woman's Building at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. (Mary Cassatt created the other mural, Modern Woman.) Having developed fine coloristic and ornamental effects and an affinity for naturalism, MacMonnies' manner turned to Impressionism in the decade and a half that followed.
At the turn of the century children, domestic scenes and landscapes were favorite subjects for American expatriate artists living and working in Giverny. MacMonnies had been a leading figure there and among the American women artists in Paris for nearly a quarter century when she divorced her famous sculptor-painter husband Frederick MacMonnies to marry muralist Will Hicok Low in 1909. She returned to America with her two daughters, Berthe Hilhne and Marjorie Eudora, aged 14 and 12 respectively, to reside with him in the art colony at Lawrence Park in Bronxville, New York.
The tragic death of her only son Ronald at two years of age triggered memories for Low. The Picture Book is a "memory picture" incorporating past and present realities and styles, and represents Marjorie at four reading to her little brother as they last remembered him. The rich, warm colors of the work recall the artist's palette during her time in Giverny. Mary contrasts the bright palette in the foreground with the shadowed dark tones in the background, reflective of "Rookery," the Lows' Prescott Avenue home in Lawrence Park. The Picture Book stands out in colorful, charming contrast to the somber portraiture that marked the last two decades of Mary Low's long artistic career.
E. Adina Gordon, Ph.D., authored the exhibition catalogue (in French and English), Frederick William MacMonnies and Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, Two American Artists in Giverny (Vernon, Musie Municipal, 1988); Smart and Gordon, A Flight with Fame: the Life and Art of Frederick MacMonnies, 1863-1937 (1996); and "The Sculpture of Frederick William MacMonnies: A Critical Catalogue," Ph.D. diss. (NYU, 1998). She is currently compiling a catalogue raisonné of Frederick MacMonnies' paintings, and one on the paintings of Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low.