Mary Solari was born in Italy in 1849, and she and her family moved to the United States (Memphis, Tennessee) when she was an infant. After the death of her parents, her brother arranged for her to return to Italy to study art. Because of her persistence she was the first woman to be admitted to the Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. After she received her training and degree from the Academy, she returned to the United States where in 1894 she was selected to serve on the Board of Judges in the Art Department of the Columbian World Exposition. She was the only person chosen from the Southern states. Her own art work appeared in the Atlanta Exposition, and in 1897 her work won first prize for oil painting in the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.
She wrote extensively on art education and prison reform and worked tirelessly for a new hospital for the city of Memphis. She died in 1929 and, because of her many years of friendship with Christian Brothers College, she willed her art collection to the school.
The Mary Solari collection is comprised of 49 works with watercolors and oils, as well as ink and pencil drawings. Her work was included in a 2006 exhibit at the Cheekwood Museum in Nashville of the 100 most important Tennessee artists. In 2007, photographs of the original works were exhibited in full size at a centenary celebration in Calvari, Italy, her place of birth.