Little is known about the life of the woman artist known as Maria R. Dixon. In fact there is no known record recounting either her birth or her death. What is known is that Dixon participated in an exhibition of her paintings from as early as 1880 at the Brooklyn Art Association. There is also a record of an exhibition of her works at the National Academy of Design from 1883 until 1896 as well as a similar record of her participation in the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta in 1895.
In order to avoid discrimination which existed against women artists during her painting career Maria R. Dixon signed her paintings M.R. Dixon. It is interesting to note that at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago more than ten percent of the entries were made by women. By 1930 in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition women artists comprised in excess of thirty per cent of the entries. Not only did women show their works at all the major exhibitions of the day but they also won a good part of the medals. Yet few women artists at the time were chosen as part of the permanent collections of American museums.
The Riding Habit is consistent with Maria R. Dixon's known works and their themes of domesticity. Regal poses of women in the format of portraiture were a common subject motif for the day amongst other contemporary and well-known artists as John Singer Sargent and Frank Benson as well as notable women artists as Cecilia Beaux and Suzanne Valadon. These genre images were very much influenced at the time by European examples or by art schools which American artists attended abroad. Riding was considered to be an appropriate activity for young ladies of the time, and this authoritative and comely young woman whose gaze is turned somewhat askance at the viewer is shown in full dress riding bustle and ruff with short jacket and riding crop to spur on her steed. The white cuffs and collar punch the sole color along with the sitter's red lips against an almost monochromatic black background and black outfit. The effect is direct, engaging, and enticing.