William Lamb Picknell 1853-1897

Wash Day, Annisquam

  • 22 x 30 inches (55.9 x 76.2 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower right: W.L. Picknell

Why We Love It

Picknell was famous in Europe before gaining notoriety in America, winning several prizes at prestigious European institutions. He is best known for his handling of atmosphere and his rendering of bright light reflected in the landscape. This “glare effect” is his signature style. Wash Day, Annisquam combines the Corot-like atmospheric effect of greenery dissolving in the direct light of the sun with the brilliant reflected light that made Picknell famous.

The Value

In our opinion Picknell is still undervalued relative to other artists of the era. We believe his technical abilities and his poetic sensibilities will be far better recognized in the future and his works represent an excellent collecting opportunity.


Artist Background

1853: Born in Hinesburg, Vermont. Orphaned at 14 and then raised by relatives in Boston; 1872-74: Traveled to Italy, where George Inness agreed to accept him as a student; 1874: Moved to France. Enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied Jean-Leon Gerome. That summer he traveled to Pont Aven, where he studied with Robert Wylie and learned en plein air (out of doors); 1876: Exhibited at Paris Salon for the first time; 1880: His painting The Road to Concorneau received honorable mention at the Paris Salon. The first time an American landscape painter was awarded the honor; 1882: Returned to Massachusetts. Opened a small studio in Boston; 1883-91: Painted in Annisquam on Cape Ann, creating some of his best landscape paintings; 1893: Returned to France and rented a house outside Antibes; 1897: His son died. Six months later, the artist died. Two retrospective exhibitions were held at the St. Louis Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

As a plein-air painter William Lamb Picknell captured the immediacy of the natural world without romantic embellishment or affect. Wash Day, Annisquam––a superb example of the artist’s signature style––reveals how Picknell found unmitigated beauty in the realistic setting that surrounded him.  To him, truthfully and accurately depicting the landscape was of paramount importance; such an exercise not only displayed his expert technique but also demonstrated his great love of nature’s beauty and the overwhelming sensations it could inspire.

Picknell most often painted in bright sunlight, or glaring light, which afforded him dazzling contrasts between light and dark and helped to create a crisp sense of atmosphere.  Art historian William Gerdts was the first to comment on the artist’s use of the glare effect in his 1980 landmark exhibition titled American Impressionism: Aesthetically different from the soft light of the Impressionists, glaring light offered Picknell a stylistic alternative that best matched his interests in both Impressionism and realism. In Wash Day, Picknell alternates between strong highlights and deep shadows, creating a rhythm between the two that adds to the beauty of the scene.  The richness of the paint and varied textures of the brushstrokes are indicative of the influence of Impressionism, yet the artist’s commitment to truth and precision is made apparent in the realistic qualities of the work.

Picknell’s use of the palette knife, most notably in the foreground of this painting, became one of the hallmarks of his style. Here he used it to capture the variety of the grasses and reflections in the water.  Picknell was lauded by critics for this technique, as it heightened the immediacy of nature while maintaining the realism of the scene. Although for all of his interest in this realism, Picknell did not sacrifice the whole of the painting for the details.  Wash Day, like most of his other works from this important period, is meant to be viewed and thus contemplated as whole from a distance.  The quiescence of the landscape creates a sense of harmony.