On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic will unveil two recently discovered paintings by Nova Scotian marine artist John O’Brien (1831-1891). The paintings are more than just beautiful pieces of art, they also illustrate the highs and lows of a man who is generally regarded as the most significant ship portrait artist in Canada during the 19th century. “These two paintings are powerful examples between the two extremes of the artist’s career,” says Dan Conlin, the museum’s curator of marine history. “One is a bright, sunny portrait of a rich merchant’s brig, and the other is a dark and violent storm scene painted on scrap tin.” To compliment the display opening, Mr. Conlin will give a free talk later that evening entitled Ominous Sky: The Stormy Career of Marine Artist John O’Brien. The talk will take place at the Maritime Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m., and will address Mr. O’Brien’s professional triumphs and personal battles. Believed to have been born at sea, Mr. O’Brien emerged in the 1850s as a self-taught artist of great talent in Halifax. By 1857, Mr. O’Brien had established himself as a true artist and it was during this time that he painted one of the donated pieces, a portrait of the brig Florence, sailing through calm waters on a beautiful day. Sadly, an eye disease permanently impaired Mr. O’Brien’s vision and left him unable to paint for his prestigious clients. By 1860, as he struggled with poverty and alcoholism, his once sunny portraits grew darker. In 1881, he painted the second donated piece, a scrap of tin featuring an unknown vessel fighting through a storm. The donors who gave the pieces to the museum were not initially aware that their paintings were original O’Briens. Through careful examination and research, museum staff were able to determine each paintings true significance. “Our discovery of these unknown works by O’Brien is extremely exciting,” said Mr. Conlin. “It’s an important reminder of all the undiscovered treasure of Nova Scotia’s heritage that’s still out there.” The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is located at 1675 Lower Water St., Halifax.