Marie Hull was one of Mississippi’s most beloved artists and teachers, probably more popular and better known during the course of her ninety years than since her death. Longevity, productivity, and an indefatigable constitution gave her the extended runway needed to build up a national reputation. She made two lengthy trips to Europe, one in 1913 and another in 1929, and thereafter had dozens of exhibitions and entered scores of competitions across the country, bringing home a bounty of accolades, prizes, and awards.
Anyone even casually familiar with the long arc of Hull’s career will know that she was extremely prolific. There are, however, no more than sixty-five of her oil paintings in museum collections, with perhaps another 250 in private hands. Throughout her very social life, Hull both sold and gave away an untabulated number of works and frequently traded her paintings for those by other artists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Ida Kohlmeyer. With few exceptions, there are no records of these hundreds of transactions.
It was not until about 1920 that Hull’s stylistic personality began to emerge. The gestation had been a protracted one because her artistic education (at prestigious institutions such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the Art Students League in New York) had been episodic—interrupted by other personal and professional pursuits—and multivalent, influenced by the contradictory forces of traditional academic training and the more avant-garde strategies of European modernism as represented in the Armory Show of 1913. Dating to the years 1919–1929, there survives a handful of small but highly accomplished floral still lifes and landscapes, executed in a vibrant divisionist technique most clearly reliant on the Neo-Impressionism of French painters Henri-Edmond Cross, Maximilien Luce, and Paul Signac.
The artist was working in this vein in late 1925, when the Hulls arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Emmett (whom Marie had married in 1917) opened an architectural practice. The venture was a short one—lasting less than a year—during which time Hull made just a handful of captivating paintings of beaches and fishing boats. On the other hand, she produced hundreds of drawings and watercolors of the exotic birds to be seen in a sub-tropical Eden—as the Gulf Coast of Florida must have seemed in those days. These studies and their extensive companion annotations were later used as points of reference when Hull created a limited number of “portraits” of her favorite specimens. The finished paintings in gouache or oil—on canvas, compressed fiberboard, and wood—are of exceptional rarity in the artist’s oeuvre: only a dozen or so can be accounted for today, including Red Parrots. In this example, she combines the technique of brush and palette knife with solid black outlines, applies gem-like fields of color resembling stained glass, and dramatically asserts the surface plane by means of flattened floral blossoms. The result is highly decorative and the nearest Marie Hull came to working in the fashionable, contemporaneous style of Art Deco.