Mary MacMonnies Low

During her expatriate career, between the mid-1880s and return to the United States in 1920, painter and muralist Mary Fairchild MacMonnies (later Low) was one of the most successful Ameican women artists of her generation. Mary Fairchild was born in Connecticut, but was raised largely in St. Louis, Missouri. Inspired by her mother's work as a painter of miniatures and dissatisfied as a school teacher, she enrolled in the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, where she led a movement for women to be permitted to draw model posed in the nude, an important component of artistic training then considered improper for well-bred young women. Impressed by her talent and drive, the school's director, Halsey Ives, created a scholarship that allowed Fairchild to travel to Paris for additional training at the Acadamie Julian. By 1886, Fairchild was able to exhibit her paintings in the Paris Salon.

In 1887 Fairchild met sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, with whom she boldly shared her studio before the two married, following the completion of her scholarship. Exhibiting actively in the United States as well as in Paris, Mary MacMonnies won the important commission to create Primitive Woman, one of two large murals for the Women's Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Throughout the 1890s and 1900s, she painted commissioned portraits, murals, and copies of works in the Louvre. After 1890, when she and her husband joined the artist's colony in the rural village of Giverny, France, MacMonnies began absorbing its prevailing aesthetic of impressionism. With the births of her children, MacMonnies increasingly turned her attention to domestic scenes, which were well received by American critics. The MacMonnies's home became a social center for the largely expatriate American artists' community that flourished around 1900. With Frederick MacMonnies's frequent absences in Paris and America and his romantic involvements with his female students, the couple grew increasingly estranged and divorced in 1909. Soon thereafter, Mary married the recently widowed American painter Will Hickock Low. Taking her daughters with her, she moved with Low to Bronxville,  outside New York City, where she remained for the rest of her life. Abandoning impressionism, Mary exhibited her increasingly conservative portraits and landscapes exclusively in the United States, her former fame largely forgotten by the time of her death.