Find, Learn, Price Art
Enjoy the comprehensive art database we've compiled since 1987
Membership Details
Images, sales charts, bios, signatures, 30 artist Alerts and more ...
Art auction records:  Millions of references for pricing research
Or, register for Free Alerts
To track 10 artists.

Already a member?  Sign in here

William Picknell

 (1853 - 1897)
William Lamb Picknell was active/lived in Massachusetts, California, Vermont / France.  William Picknell is known for landscape theme paintings, plein- air.

William Picknell

Biography from the Archives of askART

An orphan, Picknell, born in Hinesburg, Vermont on 23 October 1853, was raised by an uncle in Boston, who urged him to develop his artistic talents. This led to a stay in Italy (1872-74), including some time in Rome where George Inness agreed to accept him as a student. From there he continued his studies in Paris under Jean-Léon Gérôme. During student breaks he was able to discover Brittany and he fell under the influence of Robert Wylie, a leading figure at Pont Aven. In 1876 Picknell's painting A Breton Farm was accepted at the Paris Salon; he would continue to exhibit there for the rest of his life. 

The Phoenix Art Museum has Picknell's picturesque Pont-Aven Harbor (1879). He exhibited for the first time at the National Academy of Design in 1879 when he submitted Land of Kerren, Finistère. His Road to Concarneau (Corcoran Gallery of Art), given an Honorable Mention at the Salon of 1880, is for William H. Gerdts the prime example of the "Glare aesthetic," in which broad surfaces of strong local color reflect blinding light; it was one way to define form, devised in the seventeenth century in Holland.  Even more blinding is the wide road in Road to Nice (1896; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). The same museum has Picknell's On the Borders of the Marsh (1877-80), a sort of "takeoff" of Hugh Bolton Jones's exact same view, called Edge of the Moor, Brittany (1877; Private collection).  Sadakichi Hartmann described Picknell's version: "a November day in a Brittany field, with the characteristic gnarled trees, overgrown with ivy and mistletoe, and the broad earthen fences peculiar to that region . . . most vigorous in its treatment. . . ." In 1882 Picknell returned to Boston and began to spend summers at Annisquam on Cape Ann (1883-91).  There he worked with Hugh Bolton Jones, Lewis Henry Meakin, Robert Vonnoh and others.  His painting called Wintry March (1885) is in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.  From about the same year is Sand Dunes of Essex, Massachusetts (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), an impressive panorama.

Picknell became an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1891, then traveled to California and to Provence with Henry Mosler and Meakin. Picknell exhibited at the National Academy, at the Pennsylvania Academy and at the Society of British Artists in London.  In his subtle art, Picknell carefully observed the nuances of nature's palette and captured its various spectacular lighting effects.  He used a palette knife and expressive brushwork but despite this vigorous technique, he achieved convincingly naturalistic landscapes, often highly illuminated, in panoramic formats.  Critics of the time admired his bold execution, comparing it to Courbet's.  The haphazard quality of Picknell's compositions convinces the viewer that he depicted actual locations.  Picknell is represented by another canvas in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Morning on the Loing at Moret (ca. 1895), quite similar to the Metropolitan Museum's Banks of the Loing (ca. 1897). Both feature a dazzling, sunny sky and a tow path to the side of the river. After the death of his three-year-old son, Picknell became ill himself and died of heart failure at the age of forty-three at Marblehead, Massachusetts, on 8 August 1897.  The City Art Museum of St. Louis held a retrospective exhibition that December.

Sadakichi Hartmann. A History of American Art. 2 vols. Boston: L. C. Page and Co., 1902, pp. 85-87; Emerson, E. W. "An American Landscape Painter." Century Magazine 40 (September 1901): 710-713; Boyle, Richard J. American Impressionism. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1971, pp. 117-118; Quick, Michael. American Expatriate Painters of the Late Nineteenth Century. Dayton, OH: Dayton Art Institute, 1976, pp. 25-27, 124; Burke, Doreen Bolger. American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. III. New York: 1980, pp. 145-146; Sellin, David. Americans in Brittany and Normandy 1860-1910. Phoenix Art Museum, 1982; Jacobs, Michael. The Good and Simple Life: Artist Colonies in Europe and America. Oxford, UK: Phaidon Books, 1985, pp. 58-63; Weber, Bruce and William H. Gerdts. In Nature's Ways: American Landscape Painting of the Late Nineteenth Century. Exh. cat. West Palm Beach, FL: Norton Gallery of Art, 1987, pp. 10-11, 65, 99; Sellin, David. The Art of William Lamb Picknell: 1853-1897. Exh. cat. Washington, DC: Taggart and Jorgensen Gallery, 1991.

Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

Biography from the Archives of askART
William Picknell painted in a 'plein-air'* style, usually capturing brilliant light and clear air in his works. This 'glaring' light technique characterized his works from nature and placed him in the forefront of outdoor landscape painting.  He was also noted for his ample application of paint, a characteristic of many Impressionists*. Picknell also became legendary for the rapidity in which he painted.  He was a realist, a master figure painter, and often portrayed Portuguese and Yankee fishermen at work along the New England coastline.

William Picknell was born in Vermont in 1853, and lived with relatives in Boston after becoming orphaned at age 14.  His family discouraged his pursuit of art as a career, but he continued to greatly admire the work of George Inness, an influential and highly regarded painter.  Inness was in Italy at the time, and a relenting uncle provided a one-time $1000 stipend for Picknell to join Inness there.  Two years later, Picknell attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts* and then moved to a small village, Pont Aven, along the Brittany coast.  There, an assembly of international artists had established a colony.  In 1876, Picknell exhibited in the Paris Salon*. His painting, The Road to Concarneau, was awarded an honorable mention, which solidified his future as an artist.  He soon exhibited successfully in England and departed with no unsold inventory.

In the 1880s, he returned to the Massachusetts coast and opened a studio where he could paint at little expense and be near many of his Brittany friends.  Later, Picknell traveled extensively in the United States.

In 1889, he married and returned to France, where he continued to paint.  In 1897, Picknell's poor health and loss of his only child resulted in his return to Boston, where he died at age 43.

Picknell was elected to the Society of American Artists* in 1880, the Society of British Artists in 1884, and in 1891, became an associate member to the National Academy of Design*. His works can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Collection, Musees de France, and at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Hinesburg, VT on Oct. 23, 1853. Picknell studied with George Inness in Rome and at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. While based in Massachusetts, he was constantly on the move. Several extended trips were made to Europe in search of subject matter and to exhibit. He traveled to California in early 1892 and spent one year there during which time he became seriously ill of a lung disease. Returning to the East Coast, he died in Marblehead, MA on Aug. 8, 1897. Member: Society of American Artists; Royal Society of British Artists; ANA. Exh: Paris Salon, 1876, 1880 (award), 1895 (medal); Royal Academy (London), 1877; NAD, 1879; PAFA, 1881; World's Columbian Expo (Chicago), 1893 (medal); Atlanta Expo, 1895 (medal); PAFA, 1896; St Louis Museum, 1897 (solo); Boston Museum, 1898. In: MM; CGA; Cleveland Museum; PAFA; Fogg Museum (Harvard); French Nat'l Collection; Boston Museum; Phoenix Museum.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries

William Lamb Picknell (1853-1897)

Landscape painter William Lamb Picknell is especially famed for the quality of light in his plein-air painting, which was often glaringly intense, clear, and crisp. His inborn worship of nature was amply nourished by several American masters including esteemed Hudson River School and Tonalist painter George Inness, painter Robert Wylie, and Picknell's friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although Picknell did not associate himself with any one "school" of art, he was at the heart of the American expatriate art scene. Picknell studied with Inness in Rome and with Wylie, who had been curator of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, in Pont-Aven, Brittany.  In addition to the examples provided by these American expatriates, Picknell was exposed to the major trends in nineteenth-century French painting, and in particular was influenced by Courbet's realism.

Born in Hinesburg, Vermont on October 23, 1853, Picknell was orphaned at the age of fourteen and went to live with family members in Chelsea, Massachusetts.  He worked in a picture store on Tremont Street in Boston and in 1872 convinced an uncle to give him $1,000 towards art study in Europe.  Encouraged by his family to pursue art, for which he had a penchant, he left Boston in 1872 and went to study with Inness for two formative years.  With his Barbizon background and Swedenborgian pantheism, Inness struck a happy balance between Boston's Tonalist painters and Transcendentalist writers.  Inness did not teach, but allowed Picknell to work in his studio and copy his paintings.

After several years in Inness's studio, Picknell moved to France.  In December 1874, he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme.  However, there is no evidence of his study at the Ecole beyond the spring term of 1875.  Instead, his real education occurred at Pont-Aven (Finistère) and Concarneau, the Brittany villages he visited for the first time the summer of 1874.  There he worked, in a mentor-student relationship, alongside Robert Wylie, who had known the great American artists Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, and Thomas Hovenden at the Pennsylvania Academy. Wylie taught him to use the palette knife and insisted on painting out-of-doors, surrounded by ones subject.  Mlle. Julia, Wylie's lover and keeper of the Hôtel des Voyageurs, supported Picknell financially. While Picknell spent the summer months at Pont-Aven, Concarneau, Grèz-sur-Loing, and Moret-sur-Loing, he lived the rest of the year in Paris. 

In 1876, Picknell had his first painting accepted into the prestigious Paris Salon, and thereafter he exhibited at the Salon regularly throughout the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. In 1877 he also exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy in London. However, his great success came at the 1880 Paris Salon, when La route de Concarneau (The Road to Concarneau) (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.) achieved the first ever "honorable mention" for an American landscape painter, assuring Picknell's future as an artist.  The same year, he was elected to the Society of American Artists, a group of painters dedicated to impressionism, who had broken with the conservative National Academy of Design. Like the impressionist painters, Picknell was interested in capturing the color and light effects of different times of the day and seasons of the year. However, Picknell did not dissolve the forms in his paintings into pure light and color, but retained their sense of solidity.  In addition, he did not diffuse the light in his paintings with hazy, atmospheric effects, but kept it crisp and fresh.

Before returning to Massachusetts in the autumn of 1882, Picknell traveled to Venice, Tangiers, and England.  Once back in America, he took up residence in the Boston area and opened a small studio there. Nevertheless, he continued to travel, spending summers from 1883-1891 painting at Annisquam on Cape Ann with other renowned American artists such as his friend Thomas Hovenden and Robert Vonnoh.  Following his marriage to Marries Gertrude Powers in 1889, he also visited California and Provence in 1892-93 and Florida in 1894. In 1893 he returned to France, renting a house for four years at the Villa Hortensias outside Antibes, along the Côte d'Azur. In 1897, after the death of his son William Ford Picknell, Picknell returned to Massachusetts. At this time he was in poor health and died in early August, six months after his son, at the very young age of forty-three.  He was immediately honored with two retrospectives at the Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Share an image of the Artist

  Full access to biographies is
  free each Friday

About  William Picknell

Born:  1853 - Hinesburg, Vermont
Died:   1897 - Marblehead, Massachusetts
Known for:  landscape theme paintings, plein- air