Born this day in 1877: Mary Quinn Sullivan (1877–1939), art educator, art collector, and cofounder of the Museum of Modern Art
Mary Quinn, the daughter of Irish immigrants, grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. She showed an interest in art at an early age, and in 1899 she began studying at the Pratt Institute in New York City. She graduated by 1801 and began teaching art in city schools.
In 1910 Quinn rejoined the Pratt Institute as an in instructor. She formed close friendships with several well-known art collectors and patrons, including Lillie Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. In 1917 she married Cornelius Sullivan, an attorney and collector of rare books and paintings. Mary Quinn Sullivan herself began collecting art. Works by Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rouault, and Picasso formed the beginnings of her collection. She and her husband also collected older paintings as well as silver and furniture. They frequently lent items from their collections to museums in the U.S. and abroad.
In 1929 Sullivan, Bliss, and Rockefeller nailed down plans to create an institute devoted exclusively to the support of modern art—the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Sullivan already had experience in institutional support. In 1927 she had created the Gambolier’s Society of Indianapolis, whose subscribing patrons funded the collecting of art for the John Herron Art Institute. Sullivan’s experience as an art teacher guided the Museum of Modern art to include education—for the artist, art scholar, and public alike—as part of its overall mission. Today it is arguably the leading modern art museum in the world.
In 1933 Sullivan gave up her position as a trustee in order to open her own gallery. She gave up gallery in 1939 due to ill health. She planned to sell her collection, but died the day before the sale. Abby Rockefeller purchased two pieces of her collection, which reside at the MoMa in Sullivan’s memory.
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