Whether it’s the Indian River Lagoon, Venetian Canals or the Mediterranean, water is the lifeblood of Mary Louise O’Sullivan’s work
“White Pelicans,” oil on canvas, 32 x 48 inches
Mary Louise O’Sullivan, a recognized Florida marine and wildlife artist, has a background steeped in art. Her maternal grandparents, collectors of classic art, owned paintings of sheep and horses rendered by 19th-century artists in the school of George Stubbs. They also cherished a prized portrait by the eminent 19th-century French artist Jean-Jacques Henner. O’Sullivan’s best friend’s mother was an artist whose studio was a familiar and magical place to her.
Early on, O’Sullivan yearned for art lessons and begged her parents relentlessly. They rewarded her by arranging private art lessons for her when she was 9 years old. She initially worked with clay, creating a duck as her first sculpted project. This was perhaps a harbinger of her 50-year career painting animals and birds and becoming a valued member of the Society of Animals Artists.
An array of prestigious schools educated the budding artist: Chatham Hall in Virginia, Vassar College, the Boston Museum School and Bellas Artes in Madrid. During these years, O’Sullivan studied oil painting, learned the stylistic techniques of the old masters and created pigments using their methods. After three years in Boston, where she won the Trompe L’oeil Prize at the Museum School, she went off to Spain with some of her artist friends. Her apartment in Madrid overlooked the Prado Museum and the Royal Botanical Garden.
In Madrid, O’Sullivan was part of an international group of artists. Unlike the local Spaniards, they went to great lengths to make their own pigment paints by practicing what they had learned in art school. To earn pesetas, O’Sullivan painted portraits, which she readily sold, and did some modeling. She had a one-woman show at the Fortuny Gallery in Madrid. Fortunately, the cost of living in Spain in the early ‘60s was very low, and her Spanish friends regularly treated her to dinner.