William Lamb Picknell (1853–1897)

American landscape painter admired for unembellished realism

By Eve Perry

William Picknell’s landscapes and seascapes are admired for their remarkable portrayal of reflected sunlight and demonstrate a commitment to objective representation.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

William Lamb Picknell was born in Hinesburg, Vermont in 1853. Orphaned as young adolescent, Picknell moved to Boston to live with his uncle. At the age of twety Picknell traveled to Europe where he would spend the majority of his adult life. He began his fine art education under the tutelage of American landscape painter George Inness in Rome. In 1874 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts where he studied in the atelier of French Academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. Picknell then resided for four years at the artists colonies in Pont-Aven and Concarneau. At Pont Aven, he studied with the American painter Robert Wylie who instructed the developing artist to paint directly from life and without idealizing his subjects. From Wylie, Picknell learned the method of applying paint directly on the surface of a canvas with a pallet knife.

In 1876, Picknell began to exhibit his work at the Paris Salon and would continue to do so intermittently until the last year of his life. His paintings, particularly his depictions of roads tapering off into the distance, won the artist frequent praise by French critics. His Road to Concarneau (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) earned him a medal at the 1880 Salon and made him the first American to receive so high an honor in the category of landscape. As a result of the recognition he gained from the prize, the French dealer Adolphe Goupil offered Picknell a contract in which he promised to purchase all the paintings the artist could produce. Picknell spent two winters in England painting winter landscapes in the New Forest region before returning to his native New England.

For the rest of the 1880s, Picknell lived in Waltham, Massachusetts making excursions to the Annisquam coast to paint and traveling across the country from Florida to California. In 1899, the Avery Gallery in New York held an exhibition consisting almost entirely of Picknell’s work. The exhibition was received to critical acclaim, many noting the artist’s adeptness in rendering bright light glancing off the surface of water. The same year, the artist married and returned to France with his wife, living and painting in Grez, Moret and Antibes. In 1897, Picknell returned once again to Massachusetts where he spent the final year of his life.

II. Chronology

1853 Born in Vermont
1870 Began working in Boston frame shop (until 1872)
1873 Traveled to Europe; Studied with George Inness in Italy
1874 Studied at the École des Beaux-Arts
1876-80 Lived at artist colony in Pont-Aven and Concarneau
1880 Won prize at Paris Salon
1880-82 Lived in England, painted in New Forest
1882-89 Lived in Waltham, MA; spent summers at Annisquam, MA
1889 Married Gertrude Powers and moved to France
1897 Died in Marblehead, MA

III. Collections

Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, PA
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Wash D.C
Boston Museum of Fine Art, MA
Figge Art Museum, IA
Harvard University, Fogg Museum, MA
Holyoke Museum, MA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
National Museum of American Art, Wash, D.C.
Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France
Parrish Art Museum, NY
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
Phillips Collection, Wash. D.C.
Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England
University of Minnesota, Tweed Museum of Art, MN
Witte Museum, TX

IV. Exhibitions

1876 Paris Salon
1878-81 Paris Salon
1879 National Academy of Design
1880 Corcoran Gallery
1881-83 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1884 Paris Salon
1888 Paris Salon
1889 Avery Gallery, New York
1891-98 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1893-98 Paris Salon
1896 Boston Art Club
1897 Paris Salon
1898 National Academy of Design
1901 Boston Art Club
1902 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

V. Memberships

Society of American Artists
National Academy of Design

VI. Notes

Lois Marie Fink, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons (Wash. D.C.: National Museum of American Art; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). P. 231.

VII. Suggested Resources

Boyle, Richard. American Impressionism (Boston: New York Graphic Society 1974).
Emerson, Edward Waldo, “An American-Landscape Painter: William L. Picknell,” Century
Magazine
, n.s. 40 (Sept. 1901), p. 710-713.
Fink, Lois Marie. American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons (Wash. D.C.: National Museum of
American Art; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
Gerdts, William H. Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865-1915. Exh. cat. (Chicago:
Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1992).
Gerdts, William H. Masterworks of American Impressionism from the Pfeil Collection (Alexandria,
Virginia: Art Services International, 1992).
Hartman, Sadakichi, A History of American Art (Boston: L. C. Page, 1902), vol.1, p. 85-86.
Komanecky, Michael K. ed. Phoenix Art Museum: Collection Highlights (New York: Harry N.
Abrams, Inc., 2002).
Leroi, “Salon de 1894: William L. Picknell,” L’Art 2 (1894), p. 170-17.
Zellman, Michael David. 300 Years of American Art. vol. 1 (Secaucus, NJ: Wellfleet Press, 1987).

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