William Lamb Picknell

William Lamb Picknell was born in Vermont. He was orphaned at the age of fourteen and went to live with relatives in Boston. The city was the center of American landscape painting at the time, and Picknell was particularly interested in the reputation of George Inness. His family discouraged him from studying art, but Picknell managed to convince an uncle to support his artistic training abroad. With a thousand dollars in hand, Picknell and George Inness, Jr. set sail for Italy, where it seems plausible that he received criticism and instruction from the elder Inness, who was living there. He may have spent several years in Italy before going to Paris, where he enrolled in Ecole des Beaux-Arts in December of 1874.  By 1876 he was established at the artist’s colony in Pont-Aven, Brittany. There he painted alongside such artists as Robert Wylie, Thomas Hovenden, H. Bolton Jones, and Louis Pelose.  Wylie seems to have had the greatest influence on Picknell’s style: he asserted the importance of truthful representation and also taught Picknell how to use the palette knife, a technique that would become central to Picknell’s technique. The rapidity with which Picknell painted became legendary. With brush and palette knife in hand he learned to manipulate a lot of paint to great effect.

In 1880 Picknell’s The Road to Concarneau was awarded honorable mention at the Paris Salon. This acclaim won him a contract with Goupil. He then returned to the United States to paint the landscape of his native New England. Simultaneously, Picknell worked throughout the country, traveling from California to Florida to Pennsylvania, all the while securing his reputation at home and abroad. Critics marveled over his “dazzling technique” and gave him great acclaim. Picknell married in 1889 and returned to France with his wife. He contracted malaria around 1892 and his health began to deteriorate.  This and the premature death of his child hastened his failing condition. Shortly after he returned to America, Picknell died in Boston at the age of forty-three.  Today his paintings are part of collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum Fine Arts, Boston; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the National Collection, Musees de France; and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.