Mary Heister Reid was a trailblazer for Canadian female artists. The large retrospective exhibition of her art organized at the Art Gallery of Toronto after her death was the gallery’s first solo exhibition of a woman. Reid worked mostly with oil on canvas, although a few of her watercolours still exist, as well as a small number of landscape murals.
Reid began her education at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (1881–1883), and then attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts until 1885. It was there she was taught by the portraitist Thomas Pollock Anshutz and the realist painter Thomas Eakins. Reid also met her husband, George Agnew Reid, at the Academy, and the two of them settled in Toronto where they gave art lessons. In 1888, Reid enrolled in the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In 1896, she and her husband visited Madrid where she studied the paintings of Diego Velázquez, which inspired her to experiment with restricted ranges of colours (Study in Rose and Green, 1917). Between 1891 and 1916, Reid and her husband spent their summers painting and teaching at Onteora, a private literary and artistic club near Tannersville, New York.
By 1890, Reid was considered the best floral painter in Canada and she was a constant figure in the Toronto art scene until her death in 1921. In 1893, she was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and in 1904, a member of the Canadian Society of Applied Art. She Many of her paintings are owned by private collectors, the government of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada.