Editor's note: The following Master's thesis was reprinted in Resource Library on January 30, 2009 with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author directly:
William Lamb Picknell: An American Emersonian Artist
By Lauren Walden Rabb
In the late nineteenth century, William Lamb Picknell (1853 - 1897) was one of the most honored and respected artists in the United States. At the age of only twenty-six he was the first American to win an honorable mention for a landscape at the Paris Salon. The dealers Goupil and Avery vied for his paintings, and he exhibited regularly at the National Academy of Design and the Society of American Artists in New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Royal Academy and Society of British Artists in England; and the French Salon. Queen Victoria admired his Wintry March (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and his Route de Concarneau (fig. 1) was so well-known among art devotees that it appeared in a cartoon about the struggle for control of the Pennsylvania Academy (fig. 2). By the time of Picknell's death at the age of forty-three, his works were in about a dozen museums, and his many awards had been capped by a medal at the Paris Salon. But Picknell's life and work, encapsulated in the second half of the nineteenth century, was quickly forgotten after his early death. When the tide of twentieth-century modern art swept away interest in the older traditional styles, Picknell became only a vaguely remembered footnote.
Researching Picknell's life and work is challenging. He wrote or published no treatises, or even brief opinions, on his or anyone else's art. There are no sketchbooks, only a few scattered letters, and occasional mentions of him by other artists, although these are quite often remarkably affectionate. No descendants of his immediate family lived to adulthood. The bulk of known information on Picknell was, until quite recently, limited to the essay written twice by Edward Waldo Emerson -- once for the memorial exhibition catalogue, and a slightly different version for Century magazine.
Then, in 1980, art historian William Gerdts rediscovered Picknell and put his art in historical context. He curated the landmark exhibition on American Impressionism at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, and devoted a chapter of his catalogue to Picknell and the "Glare" aesthetic -- his term for an international movement that practiced an alternate aesthetic of light to Impressionism. In his discussion, Gerdts traces the general lightening of the palette which occured during the nineteenth century, and points out that it culminated not only in Impressionism, but also in an international movement of "high key" paintings that emphasized the bright, glaring properties of sunlight. Although "Glare aesthetic" is a modern idiom, Otto Stark, an American artist and critic who was a contemporary of Picknell, writes that critics did recognize this movement at the time it was happening:
Artists as diverse as the British Ford Madox Brown, the German Franz von Lenbach, the Austrian Ferdinand Waldmuller, and the Spanish Mario Fortuny all utilized the "Glare" aesthetic in at least some of their work. But part of Gerdts's purpose in including this discussion in a catalogue on American Impressionism is to point out that "the most complete expression of the Glare aesthetic by an American artist is found in the art of... William Lamb Picknell.
Two years after Gerdts's catalogue, art historian David Sellin added greatly to the body of knowledge on Picknell when he organized another landmark exhibition -- the first of American artists who had painted in Brittany and Normandy. In the catalogue essay he discussed at length Picknell's experiences at the art colony of Pont-Aven, utilizing for the first time other artist's memoirs and a few extant letters.
Almost a decade later, Dr. Sellin and I worked together to mount the first retrospective exhibition of Picknell's work since his memorial exhibitions. Through extensive research, advances were made toward an accurate chronology, and a much clearer picture of his total oeuvre began to emerge. Among the many interesting discoveries, perhaps the most startling was the family background of Picknell.
Until now, the scholarly work on Picknell has focused on his European influences, and how those influences illuminate the unique stylistic development of Picknell's art. Using new information about Picknell's friends and family, and the circles that family traveled in, this thesis will examine the American influences on Picknell's art, and attempt to demonstrate how these influences illuminate the meaning of Picknell's art.
I admit from the start that my conclusions are drawn largely from inference, because, as stated earlier, there is very little documentation to work from. For example, I cannot state with certainty what particular books Picknell read as a boy, but I can examine what books young people in his circle tended to read. I cannot state Picknell's personal feelings about his religious upbringing, but I can compare his boyhood to the upbringing of other young men in his social class, and comment on their religious tendencies. Finally, I do not have his own comments on art and its relationship to life, but I do have the comments of his contemporaries, and, of particular interest, the comments of his good friend, and biographer, Edward Waldo Emerson -- comments that I have given added weight to because they were written after Edward returned from Europe, where he had lived for over a year in Picknell's company.
From my examinations, I hope to demonstrate that Picknell, although he spent two-thirds of his career abroad, was a decidedly American artist, whose work was shaped by his New England upbringing, and reflects a particularly Emersonian (Ralph Waldo) view of the world. The two main keys to an Emersonian reading of Picknell's paintings are his religious background, and his relationship with Edward Waldo Emerson, previously mentioned as his first biographer. But Edward was also the son of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he and Picknell were actually cousins; the Emerson family was related to Picknell's family through Picknell's maternal side. As I will discuss, the time of Picknell's youth was the era when Ralph Waldo Emerson's ideas were the most widely accepted in New England religious history, and a general interest in Emersonian concepts could easily have been accentuated by such close relationship to the philosopher's family. At the heart of my thesis is the insistence that Picknell was a very religious person, who solidified his religious ideas during the period he spent with his two American teachers abroad -- George Inness and Robert Wylie -- and that these ideas were informed by his New England upbringing and by his interest in Emerson's philosophy, and were expressed most concretely during the years he worked back in Massachusetts, from 1883 through 1891. I believe the paintings from these years in Annisquam, Massachusetts (Cape Ann) are statements of freethinking Emersonianism, and that these works are among the most compelling visual interpretations of Emerson's words ever attempted.
It is not my intention to prove that Picknell was an expert on Emerson's ideas, or even that he attempted to depict anything beyond the most basic principles formulated in Emerson's Nature and Self-Reliance. Still, there is much visual evidence that Picknell was very attuned to Emerson's optimistic views of mankind and religion. In this opinion I am buoyed by the agreement of Ralph Waldo Emerson's latest biographer, Robert D. Richardson, who wrote in response to my proposed thesis:
And so, let us begin with Picknell's upbringing, and the history of his immediate family.
* * * *
William Lamb Picknell must be set down as one of the sons of New England. He is also a landscape painter of the first order.
The first line of this comment might be dismissed as a throw-away line, something meant to say that Picknell was a hardworker, of solid stock. However, it actually is literally true. Picknell was a descendant of John Upham, one of the original founding fathers, who came from England in 1635 and settled in Weymouth and Malden, in Massachusetts. By the time the complete Upham Genealogy was published by Frank Kidder Upham in 1892, there were over five-hundred heads of families and thousands of people descended from this one American ancestor. Everyone named Upham in the United States was a relative of Picknell; many prominent New England families were related to him. At the time of Picknell's life, his immediate family was enjoying particular prominence in New England.
In my essay on "William Picknell's Family Life" in the catalogue for the Taggart & Jorgensen Picknell exhibition, I explained the importance of restoring Picknell to his place in the larger family. There had always been a romantic myth about Picknell's youth which had its basis in the simple fact that Picknell's father died when he was fourteen years old. Edward Waldo Emerson took this fact and worded it thus:
Thereafter Picknell was often referred to as an "orphan," who went to live with "guardians" in Boston, leaving the distinct impression that Picknell had a childhood akin to Oliver Twist -- without family love or support -- and that his success was entirely his own achievement.
In reality, Picknell had a warm, nurturing, and large family which he remained close to his whole life, and which moved in the circle of the religious and political leadership of the day. According to the basic Picknell genealogy (fig. 3), William Lamb Picknell was the first son of Ellen Maria Upham and the Reverend William Lamb Picknell, a Baptist minister. The Reverend Picknell was born in Fairfax, Vermont, the son of Sally and Samuel Picknell, of Scottish descent. Ellen was the eleventh child of Joshua Upham and Mary Nichols Upham of Salem, Massachusetts. The American branch of the Nichols line was a long and distinguished one itself, dating back to a William Nichols who was born in England in 1594. Joshua Upham was a master mason, Superintendent of the Chemical Works in Salem for most of his life, and Deacon of the First Baptist Church there for forty-one years. The Genealogy states that "his dominant qualities were integrity and godliness; and his greatest wish in his children's behalf was for their spiritual prosperity, and their service in the cause of Christ." In this he was not disappointed. Of his ten surviving children, three became Baptist ministers, one a deacon of an important parish, one married a minister, one sired a minister, and another married a man who, in the words of the Genealogy, "by his wealth, example, counsel and large ideas of Christian stewardship, [did] perhaps as much as any one in that city to stir the churches to active enterprise in their work." This was Daniel Sharp Ford, who played a large role in his nephew Picknell's life.
Daniel Sharp Ford was the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Youth's Companion, a publication with a national circulation of such impact that in 1893, under the auspices of his nephew (and Picknell's first cousin) James Bailey Upham, it created the "Pledge of Allegiance." Ford was not the only uncle involved in publishing. Picknell's uncle Henry took his ministry to the public as one of the publishers of the Watchman and Reflector (later the Watchman) and afterward as sole publisher and editor of the Olive Branch; his uncle James was also involved with the Watchman and Reflector, as well as the Religious Herald of Richmond, Virginia, and The Youth's Companion. Picknell's uncle Hervey was a printer who produced the Woman's Journal, a women's rights organ, and probably also printed some of his brothers' publications.
This was Picknell's immediate family. The branches of his family reached into the upper echelons of New England intellectual society. Thomas Cogswell Upham was professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, and instructor in Hebrew, at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, from 1825 to 1867. He published many books, the most famous being Elements of Mental Philosophy, which became standard reading in youth academies and was probably read by Picknell. Charles Wentworth Upham was minister of the First Unitarian Church at Salem, a member of Congress and a member of the Massachusetts Senate. He married Ann S. Holmes, the sister of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and was a classmate and good friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. But by far the most famous Upham family member was Ralph Waldo Emerson himself. However, his connection to the family may have been unsubstantiated until the full Genealogy came out in 1892. The first genealogy of Picknell's branch of the family, published in 1885 by Picknell's uncle James, left out the Emerson branch, probably because Hannah Upham, Emerson's grandmother, was the only surviving child of that branch, and the female lines were less frequently examined than the male lines. However, by 1892 that oversight had been proudly rectified by James (he contributed substantially to the 1892 book), and there is no doubt that Picknell himself knew at some point between 1885 and 1892 that he was related to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that therefore he and Edward Waldo Emerson, Ralph's son, were cousins.
Picknell was born in Vermont, and until his father died the family resided in that state. However, during these years their closeness to the rest of the Upham family is indicated by two incidents. The first is that Picknell's grandfather, Dea. Joshua Upham, fell fatally ill in 1857 during a train trip to visit Picknell's mother. The second comes from the "Notes" delivered on August 31, 1928, in observance of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the North Springfield Baptist Church:
Although little is documented of Picknell's life, I think it is safe to assume that these two incidents are indicative of close family ties and frequent visiting of family members.
In July of 1868, the summer following the Reverend Picknell's death, Picknell's family moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, the town right next to Boston. After moving to Chelsea, Picknell apparently finished school quickly and immediately went to work. Although the Boston Daily Evening Transcript of June 21, 1878 notes that "From boyhood he had given his whole soul to art," the newspaper later revised "from boyhood" to the statement that he "first discovered his taste and talent while working as a boy in a picture store on Tremont street, in this city." The 1870 census confirms that Picknell was a "clerk in store" by that year.
Was Picknell drawn to work in a "picture store" because be was already interested in art, or did the work there inspire him? According to The Art Amateur of August 1880, Picknell's interest in an art career was prompted by a simple twist of fate. The magazine published a long biographical note about Picknell when he won honorable mention at the Salon:
Even at this early date, Picknell's humble beginnings were being mythologized, and I believe Picknell must have been singularly modest about his family connections throughout his career. He would, of course, have had "few friends" in the city, having only lived in the Boston area for four years, from the ages of fourteen to eighteen.
If Tremont Street is the correct address of Picknell's employment, it is possible to speculate which picture gallery it might have been. In the 1869/70 Boston Directory, only three picture framers are listed on Tremont Street: A.A. Childs & Co. at 145 Tremont; C. & G.H. Drew at 22 Tremont; and J.F. Paul & Co., at 441 Tremont. By the time of the 1871/72 Directory, Childs had left Tremont, but Bartlett, Williamson & Co., and Doll & Richards Gallery, had moved into the 145 Tremont address. The Drews were still there, as was J.F. Paul, but Elliot, Blakeslee & Noyes had just opened at 127 Tremont. Any of these galleries might have been where Picknell worked. As a footnote, Williams & Everett, the dealers who handled George Inness's paintings, were at 219 Washington Street throughout this period. George Inness was soon to play an important role in Picknell's career, but apparently Picknell did not work for this gallery. However, Doll & Richards had Inness very much on their minds, as they were to steal the artist away from Williams & Everett as soon as he returned from Europe.
Of additional interest in the Art Amateur anecdote is the statement that Picknell attended a "free drawing school" in Boston. It appears that Picknell benefited from a law passed in Massachusetts in 1870, which stated in part:
Judging from Picknell's only known painting from this period -- a stiff and very amateur still life of cake and fruit -- his work certainly was of the "mechanical" type, and he was probably taught with the aid of one of the drawing manuals which were common at the time. Still, Picknell must have made enough progress to demonstrate talent. He not only attracted the attention of artists such as George Loring Brown, but somehow convinced an uncle that painting was a viable future:
This story contains some mistakes (i.e., Picknell went to Rome first, not Paris) but I believe it is basically true. It is most likely that Daniel Sharp Ford was the uncle who fronted the money for a number of reasons: he was the wealthiest uncle, and we already know he was close to the Reverend Picknell; he purchased, or was given, many of Picknell's paintings over the years; and Picknell named his only child after him: William Ford. More circumstantially, the cousin who accompanied Picknell to the passport application office was James Bailey Upham, son of Picknell's uncle James, but employed by Mr. Ford; and the notary public who witnessed the passport application was Mr. Daniel Sharp.
Was Picknell's family generally dismayed at his desire to study art? I don't know. But considering where Picknell first went to study, either one of two scenarios is possible: either his family helped set him up with George Inness, or they must have been mollified that young Picknell was heading off to such prestigious, and religiously strict, company.
* * * *
Before following Picknell to Rome, it is necessary to examine more closely the Boston of Picknell's youth. William Morris Hunt's biographer, Martha Shannon, writing in 1923, described Boston of the 1860s with nostalgic affection. She comments on the grand houses, great horse-chestnut trees and beautiful family gardens, and the lack of telephones, subways, skyscrapers and even elevators. In her words:
This, of course, was not the Boston of Irish immigrants or newly freed African-Americans, but it was the Upham family's Boston, Boston before the Gilded Age. Picknell's years there were the halcyon days, before economic revolution, massive immigration and capitalist fervor changed it from a sleepy town to a booming metropolis.
As an art center, Boston was just beginning to become significant. The Boston Athenaeum had been founded in 1827 and had long provided art lovers and artists the opportunity to see, and copy, European and American masters. Even before the Civil War, Thomas Appleton had a collection of Barbizon paintings, having known Troyon in Paris. But post-war prosperity had led to a new era of collecting, and Bostonians began patronising the arts on a scale large enough to support private enterprise. The Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1870 -- to relieve the shortage of space at the Athenaeum -- and the number of art dealers in Boston grew significantly between 1868 and 1872. In 1872, Henry Hobson Richardson put Boston on the map in architecture, with his Brattle Square Church, and established "Richardson Romanesque" with Trinity Church, Boston, 1872 - 76. (Trinity Church was also where John LaFarge later began the American mural tradition, in 1875.) But it was the arrival of William Morris Hunt in 1862 which more than anything else changed the face of the fine arts in Boston permanently:
Hunt brought with him respect for French training and a love of the Barbizon school, which he promoted constantly. Probably Picknell got his first view of Barbizon paintings at home, before he ever left for Europe.
On an intellectual level, Shannon calls the 1860s "the golden age of Boston when authors, poets and historians walked its streets and gave it enduring fame." Everyone read Emerson, Hawthorne and Longfellow. Students were raised on Emerson's Self-Reliance and Nature, and it was common for students to be asked to memorize some lines of Emerson's for recitation exercises. The Saturday Club, consisting of the brightest minds of literature and science, met at Parker's Hotel once a month. The bon mots of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Appleton and Judge Hoar were passed around gleefully, or reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly, which James Russell Lowell had founded in 1857. Admiration for local orators like Daniel Webster, Edward Everett and Wendell Phillips was high. The most famous New Englanders kept visiting hours and open houses, and were always willing to engage in friendly arguments.
As Martin Green has argued in The Problem of Boston, this Boston was not a social myth, although it was a national aberration:
Elihu Vedder and William Morris Hunt, for example, took advantage of the unique accessibility of Boston intellectuals and sought out Emerson in Concord one day to "have it out with him." Emerson had stated something to the effect that "Nature being the same on the banks of the Kennebec as on the banks of the Tiber -- why go to Europe?" Vedder recounted:
The small town aspect of life in New England is important in understanding how easily a well-situated boy could assimilate the intellectual views of Boston society in just a few years there. As an Upham, Picknell would have had access to anyone he cared to meet. He could have popped into Hunt's studio, visited Emerson in Concord, comfortably conversed with Oliver Wendell Holmes -- and perhaps not even realized just how privileged he was.
On religious life in Boston during this period, we can see from the example of the Upham family that religious involvement went hand-in-hand with intellectual and commercial pursuits. Deaconships were a boost to success in business; ministers moved from pulpits to magazines; the intellectual leaders all concerned themselves with religious topics. It was a world where religious involvement was part of the fabric of life itself.
Yet Boston was rather schizophrenic regarding religion in the 1860s. Unitarianism was no longer considered the insidious religion it had been at the beginning of the century, when parents withdrew their sons from Harvard because a Unitarian clergyman, Henry Ware, had been appointed Professor of Theology. Unitarianism was now considered conservative, compared to the Emersonian world view which had captured the hearts and minds of many of Picknell's generation. Although quite serious about their spiritual lives, young people stayed away from church and its "traditional trappings." All they needed in God they found in themselves and nature. Harvard professor William James, very much a product of Picknell's generation, summed up this modern transcendental idealism as a religion that
This viewpoint naturally led to an amazingly catholic view of world religions. For Emersonians, there were no longer "right" and "wrong" religions. Edward Waldo Emerson, writing in 1895, praised the way American life celebrated an individual's right to believe whatever best suited that person: "You can come out of your special creed if you outgrow it and it cramps you, and this right and possibility are so taken for granted here that it helps the essence of your religion, your charity, even while in a narrow fold." At the end of the century William James discoursed passionately on "the varieties of religious experience," encouraging his students to view religion simply as
But there remained a faction of Boston society which clung to a traditional Protestantism, and watched with concern as Christians entered the "theologically unmapped terrain of the postwar years." By the end of the century, when James was writing his views, this old guard of Boston would defeat the incompatibility of Calvinism and freethinking by abandoning the challenge, and making Episcopalianism their faith of choice -- leaving Boston of the 1850s through the 1870s as the golden age of Emersonianism, when it engaged the intellectuals of Boston with the widest approval.
Picknell's own family, as leaders in the Baptist community, must have struggled deeply to make sense of religious life during these years. His Uncle James, in an 1845 eulogy of his mother (Picknell's grandmother, Mary Nichols Upham), published in the Watchman and Reflector, recounted that she prayed faithfully at least three times a day, and nothing was allowed to disturb her prayers. He tearfully told how his mother had prayed for his conversion, and his belief that it was her prayers which eventually led his wayward soul to a life in the ministry. Forty years later, amending this sketch for his first genealogy, James acknowledged that resistance to traditional faith was a common problem:
There can be no doubt that Picknell's immediate family still cherished evidences of intense, personal and very traditional religious experience as a signpost of a healthy and moral life.
What we know of Picknell's own religious feelings is limited by a paucity of facts, but there is evidence that he was very much a freethinker. To begin, only Picknell's mother and his sister Nellie were granted letters of transfer to the Cary Avenue Baptist Church in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where Picknell's uncle Hervey was Deacon. Nellie had been baptized in 1865, but her older brother William had apparently not yet felt the call. Whether or not he was baptized during the four years he lived in Boston in unknown, but certainly the dual circumstances of being surrounded by family members actively involved in the religious community, and experiencing the deaths of his brother and father at a young age, make it very likely that Picknell thought deeply about what God and religion meant to him. It is probably significant that he later married a Unitarian and was married in the Unitarian Church.
It is also intriguing to read the words of Foster W. Russell, historian for Mount Auburn Cemetery, who writes of Picknell: "Son of a Baptist minister, he spurned his father's injunction to follow in his footsteps and, after a few years in Boston, traveled to Rome...." Where Mr. Russell got the idea that Picknell's father expected him to enter the ministry is unknown. Whether true or not, however, given his family background it seems likely that a life in the ministry must at least have been considered by Picknell, and then rejected.
We do know, however, that in 1880 Picknell sent home from France a painting of a Catholic church, "with the figure of a solitary worshipper who kneels at her devotions before the high altar." In 1887 he painted Sunday Morning in Hampshire, celebrating Protestant religious devotion in rural England: "...along a winding footpath a bent old woman, in a plain cap and gown, and carrying her prayer book and staff, is returning from church towards a village...." In Santa Barbara, California in 1892 he painted the Mission Garden; and in the estate sale of 1900, a work with the title of Stations of the Cross was added, apparently painted in France. In other words, although they make up a very small part of his oeuvre, these pictures show that Picknell was interested in religious devotion in other parts of the world, and explored the subject very directly at least once in almost every place he lived, except Massachusetts.
Of course, as we will see from Inness's example, one can paint religious subjects without painting churches. In fact, the very act of painting is in many ways spiritual, as it is often noted that any act of creating echoes God's work. There is a certain level of anti-rationalism that informs both the genius of artistic creation, and the most profound religious experience. One must give up the concrete, the rational and the pragmatic in favor of the essence, the magical, and the numinous.
Edward Waldo Emerson said of Picknell: "Art to him was holy." We know that Picknell was surrounded by religious influences and was of an artistic bent. If we can see him as a person wishing to reconcile these two directions, then the rest of his career -- the choices he made of who to study with, the possible meaning within his paintings -- flows quite naturally from this goal. And so, we turn to Europe, and Picknell's true artistic education.
* * * *
One of the intriguing mysteries regarding Picknell's life is how he ended up with George Inness (1825 - 1894) in Rome. There are a number of possible explanations. First, it is important to know that Inness had been in Italy since 1870, without a break. He was sent there by Williams & Everett Gallery to paint saleable paintings; he was fully funded, so a need for a boarder was probably not the reason he agreed to take responsibility for Picknell. Whoever arranged for Picknell to go to Inness in Rome would have had to make the arrangements via long-distance correspondence.
It was quite a coup for a young, unknown artist to have the chance to be in Inness's studio. Inness had been exhibiting in Boston since 1861 and was very much admired there by local artists as well as the general public. Boston's familiarity with Barbizon paintings made Inness's work more accessible to Bostonians than it had been to New Yorkers; and throughout his career Boston critics were friendlier than their New York counterparts. So it was a local celebrity that Picknell went to live with in Rome.
Among the people who may have arranged for Picknell's stay in Italy, George Loring Brown certainly knew Inness well. The two older artists had even shared the same agent for a while, George Ward Nichols, who incidentally could have been a Picknell relative. However, Nichols was living in Cincinnati by 1868, so if Brown was Picknell's champion he probably didn't contact Inness through Nichols. Another person who could have arranged Picknell's stay was Henry Ward Beecher, the famous Protestant minister who was also a friend and backer of Inness. Beecher seems likely to have known Picknell's family, as he was also involved in publishing (he was editor-in-chief of The Independent in the 1860s). However, Beecher resided in New York; it is most likely that someone from Boston made the arrangements, perhaps through Williams & Everett.
Interestingly, Inness never mentions Picknell as a student, and George Inness Jr.'s biography of his father doesn't discuss the fact. I believe the reason for this is very simple: Picknell probably went as a companion to George Inness, Jr., not as one of Inness's official students. The two young men were only a few months apart in age, and, according to Emerson, were sent out together "to make studies on the Campagna." When exactly Picknell arrived in Rome in unclear; he received his passport in August of 1872 and probably left soon after, but no mention of his being there appears until January 28, 1874, when the Transcript notes that Inness
However, we know Picknell was with Inness's family at least since the middle of 1873, as the June 22, 1874 Transcript reported that:
As far as paintings from this period are concerned, I know of only one. Emerson wrote that of Picknell's time in Italy "no sketch remains to tell the tale;" and indeed, Picknell seems to have destroyed them all, except for one which was in the possession of his sister (fig. 4). The painting is inscribed "After Geo. Inness, W.L.P., Rome" and does relate to an Inness painting of Albano, Italy, no. 608 in the LeRoy Ireland catalogue raisonné of Inness's work. However, we can get an idea of Inness's teaching methods from his comments in a Harper's article of 1878:
Whatever specific instruction Picknell may have received, he learned quickly and well. Picknell himself sent from Rome a note back to the Transcript of "rapid progress," and certainly the earliest known painting from France (fig. 5), painted in spring of 1874, shows vast improvement over the Rome painting.
This early painting in France, done before Picknell had time to come under the influence of another teacher, confirms that Picknell was encouraged to find his own way. It already bears the character of Picknell's mature work, and, as Sellin has noted, shows his interest in the sparkling light and color being practiced by a number of artists in Rome at the time, especially Spanish artist Mario Fortuny.
Inness, whose work bears little resemblance to Picknell's mature work, was a more subtle influence, but a very important influence nevertheless. First, he certainly confirmed Picknell's choice of direction as a landscapist. This was not a choice made lightly at the time, for landscape was still not considered as "high" an art form as historical and religious, or even portrait painting, particularly in Boston. Theodore Stebbins has commented:
Inness, however, being a very religious man, saw art as an expression of religious feeling and exploration, an opinion which was undoubtedly appealing to Picknell:
In particular, Inness saw the landscape as an ideal medium to convey spiritual feeling:
Inness passed on to Picknell an appreciation for the civilized, as opposed to the savage, landscape. He found it more significant, because "every act of man, every thing of labor, effort, suffering, want, anxiety, necessity, love, marks itself wherever it has been." Throughout his career, Picknell would paint landscapes that represented the meeting of nature and man. This, not coincidentally, is the precise definition of Art in Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature:
By the time Picknell came to live with Inness, the older artist was an outspoken Swedenborgian. Emanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth-century mystic, had influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson as well; his teachings were very much in fashion in Boston, and dovetailed with an Emersonian view of the world. Swedenborg claimed to have direct knowledge of the spiritual world through personal revelation, and this direct knowledge included very specific qualities and principles which made the spiritual world quantifiable. Throughout the 1870s Inness worked towards synthesizing Swedenborgian principles in his art, culminating with the mystical paintings of the 1880s which successfully combined the mathematics, symbolism and content of Swedenborg's teachings. For Picknell, this quasi-scientific approach to painting never appealed -- and in this he was, again, much like Ralph Waldo Emerson, of whom his son commented: "He loved to detect the great Laws of Nature and the soul at their work, but technical metaphysics had no charm." Yet through his own example Inness passed on to Picknell the most important lesson of his career: spiritual ideas could be translated into landscape images.
By the time Picknell left Inness and moved to France, the path for the content of his art may well have been set. As for technique, however, Picknell seems to have had little affinity for Inness's working habits: working in the studio instead of outdoors, painting from memory and imagination, and re-working canvases many times, were all ways and means that Picknell never assimilated. Instead, his technique came from a source that looks unlikely on the surface, the genre-painter Robert Wylie (1839 - 1877).
* * * *
Traveling to France in the spring of 1874, Picknell probably stopped in Paris to see the Salon, as well as the first exhibition of the Impressionists. But, as we can see in figure 5, he arrived in Brittany early enough to capture the apple blossoms on the trees, and settled in Pont-Aven where he fell under the tutelage of Robert Wylie.
Wylie was the unofficial leader of the art colony at Pont-Aven. He had been there since its inception back in 1866, and made each newcomer welcome. In fact, many of the artists who came to be residents had known and admired Wylie previously from his days as curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Wylie was known as a kind and astute critic, a generous man with a quiet charisma who was well-loved by all his compatriots.
Wylie had been born on the Isle of Man in 1839, but was orphaned at the age of ten, and came to Philadelphia to live with an uncle, a Presbyterian clergyman. This similarity to Picknell's own life perhaps accounts for Wylie's immediate empathy with the younger man, for by all accounts their friendship was fast and deep. Benjamin Champney writes in his memoirs that Wylie's "advice to younger men was always thoughtful and kind, as, I think, Mr. Picknell, who was with him a long time at Pont-aven [sic] will acknowledge." Says Edward Waldo Emerson:
Here then was an artist who not only trained Picknell in technique, but served as a role-model as well, perhaps a father-figure. Like Inness, Wylie was a religious man, and as Edward Emerson recalls:
As Sellin notes, Wylie personally knew Mario Fortuny -- who practiced the "Glare" aesthetic style at which Picknell would excel. Although a figure painter himself, usually of interior genre scenes (fig. 6), Wylie must have encouraged the painting of strong sunlight; he certainly encouraged Picknell to paint outdoors, which became the only way Picknell would paint. In fact, according to Emerson, "Picknell's belief in his need of a daily study of nature forbade him to paint in the studio through the cold months." Picknell built glass-sided shanties in order to keep himself painting even in the coldest weather.
Wylie's death in 1877 was a blow to the entire art colony, but perhaps even more so to Picknell. Soon, however, he himself had become an unofficial leader of the colony:
This affection for Picknell followed him back to America. When he became a resident in Annisquam, Massachusetts during the summers, an art colony sprung up there which lasted over a decade. A number of his friends from Pont-Aven, such as Thomas Hovenden and his wife Helen Corson, and the brothers Hugh Bolton and Frank Jones, followed his path to the "Picknell cottage." Like Wylie, Picknell never officially accepted students, but he took under his wing the younger artist Lewis Henry Meakin, and probably others.
But perhaps the most important way Picknell assimilated Wylie's virtues was in his single-minded independence. Earl Shinn, another resident of Pont-Aven who wrote for art magazines under the pseudonym of Edward Strahan, described Wylie as "alone among the new American artists in reflecting no school." Picknell, too, developed a style that defied classification. Yet he emerges, during the Pont-Aven years, as a mature artist, whose work undergoes surprisingly little alteration throughout the rest of his career.
Picknell had his first painting accepted to the Paris Salon in 1876. Two years later, his next Salon painting, Lande de Kerren (fig. 7) brought him 1000 francs and a dealer -- the New Yorker Samuel Avery. That same year, the Paris dealer Goupil offered to take all of his paintings, but, according to his letter to the artist Maitland Armstrong, Picknell was too busy painting to think about it! It was also in 1878 that all seventeen of the Mario Fortuny paintings belonging to Philadelphia collector William Stewart went on exhibition in Paris, an event that, as David Sellin has pointed out, constituted a retrospective. For Picknell, re-visiting Fortuny's light was inspiring; he soon became vastly famous for his representation of sunlight.
* * * *
The praise for Picknell's 1880 Route de Concarneau (fig. 1) cannot be overstated. The critics were amazed; despite Picknell's youth, many complained that honorable mention was not good enough, and a medal should have been awarded on the spot. Praise followed the painting throughout Picknell's life, starting with the French critics of the Salon, who exclaimed over it with surprise and delight: "Painted almost entirely with the palette-knife, with astonishing impetuosity and confidence, this picture is assuredly the most remarkable thing in the foreign section." When it was exhibited in America, critics called it "a tour de force of the most surprising character. The dazzle of a blinding, fainting noonday is expressed with sledge-hammer force." As late as 1895, art critic Petronius Arbiter, writing for Munsey's Magazine "On Painting of Sunshine and Light," declared it perhaps "the most wonderful piece of imitation of sunshine ever made in the world," and certainly "the most wonderful piece of sunshine-painting in America, by any artist from anywhere."
As we have seen, the use of light in this "Glare" fashion was not really unique; nor was the use of plunging perspective -- both the European artists Gustave Caillebotte and Vincent Van Gogh had worked with similar devices (fig. 8). What astonished the critics was the combination of the two, as well as the sheer size of the work. At over six feet wide, one felt as if one could walk into the picture. Also contributing to the painting's power was its realism, the sensation that one was actually feeling the heat coming off the canvas and had to shade one's eyes to look at it. The volume L'Art et les Artistes au Salon du 1880 reported that at least one visitor to the Salon had exclaimed in front of the painting, "Heavens! how hot it is there! One would want to take off his vest!"
The "road picture" became the signature Picknell motif, continuing with a Brockenhurst Road, painted in England, the Road to California in 1892, and the Road to Nice (collection, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) in 1896; as well as paintings such as On the Borders of the Loing (collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art) which utilize the French canal in the same fashion as a road. All of these paintings were exhibited often during Picknell's life, and critics never seemed to tire of them.
Much could be written about Picknell's roads. Lois Marie Fink has said:
There are also the road metaphors of "trail's end" -- a yearning, or fulfillment of one's dreams; connecting two points; and, of course, the religious metaphors of "path to glory" and Pilgrim's Progress. However, all of these metaphors have to do with becoming rather than being, to use Lois Marie Fink's words. The rest of Picknell's oeuvre, as we shall see, is all about being. Therefore, Picknell may have been thinking of a completely different interpretation of the road, as in the words Edward Waldo Emerson used to describe his father: "he knew the straight line we think we see for a portion of an infinite circle;" or the older Emerson's definition of wisdom: "To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road...."
Picknell's success with the Route de Concarneau enabled him to pay his debts, travel to Tangiers and England, and finally return home, triumphant, in 1883. Whatever brought him initially to Annisquam, Massachusetts, his dates there coincide exactly with the years Edward Waldo Emerson is known to have "camped out" there. The Emerson family owned property on Coffin's Beach (currently Wingaersheek Beach), across from Annisquam, and Edward finally built a house on his property in 1896. The Picknell cottage was on the Annisquam point, next to the ferry between Coffin's beach and Annisquam (map, fig. 9), so travel between the two areas was easy. If the two men did not, at first, know they were cousins, the initial attraction between them had to be Edward's interest in painting.
Bliss Perry, a fellow Concordian and good friend of Edward Waldo Emerson, noted in his eulogy for Edward that "Dr. Emerson's heart was never in medicine, that he followed his father's preference, wishing all the time himself to become an artist." Letters in the Houghton Library from Edward to his publisher confirm that years after his father's death, in 1883, Emerson took private art lessons with Frank Crowninshield, the head of the Boston Museum School. The only Edward Waldo Emerson painting I know of, The Wreck at Coffin's Beach, (Concord Free Public Library) was painted in 1890 and clearly shows Picknell's influence, particularly in the treatment of the background. Therefore, there is little reason to doubt that Edward and Picknell painted together.
That their friendship was deep is documented by their trip together to the south of France in 1893. We also know that Edward Waldo Emerson became Picknell's biographer. It is important to understand the depth of their relationship if one is to agree that Edward's views may have been Picknell's views as well.
Within a short time of returning from that trip to the south of France, Edward wrote a series of essays: on American life, on the relationship of art to life, and on his father's religion. Certainly, Picknell and Edward must have discussed many of these topics with each other. In order to more fully explore Picknell's art, I am going to take for granted the possibility that what Edward says, Picknell also thought. Therefore, Edward's essays are the closest we are likely to come to Picknell's own words.
Before reading the rest of this thesis, take a moment to look at the Annisquam paintings as a group (figs. 10 - 20). The rest of this discussion will sometimes apply to all of them, so it is valuable to have an idea of the paintings as a whole.
* * * *
When Emerson wrote Nature, the most important point he wished to make was this: communion with God (or, in his term, the Oversoul) was available here, in this life, through simple communion with one's natural surroundings. Yet, he recognized: "To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature." By nature, he meant the basic details of the landscape around us -- trees, sky, flowers, rocks, grass and the like -- details that busy adults did not take time to notice. But even adults who took time to look at their surroundings, did not necessarily, in Emerson's view, see them -- for that meant feeling God's presence in the everyday environment. That type of seeing took a certain innocence and faith: "The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood."
Picknell was one of those rare individuals who felt God's presence in nature. Edward Waldo Emerson tells us that "As a school-boy among the hills of Vermont and its free pastures, William Picknell had looked on Nature and read his fate. His life thereafter was given to her and was happy." Picknell further understood his calling as an artist to be to portray this feeling for others. He did this by trying to recreate as nearly as possible the actual environment he was painting. Standing in front of his canvases, he wished the viewer not only to experience the sensations of actually being in the depicted environment, but to have a sense of the grandeur of the One who enabled that environment to be. In Ralph Waldo Emerson's words, "A work of art throws a light upon the mystery of humanity."
But, in order to accomplish "throwing a light" into the blind eyes of his adult viewers, and have them feel God's presence, the artist himself had to be humble, or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson would phrase it, transparent. Edward Waldo Emerson, writing on the relation of art to life, could have been thinking of Picknell's technique when he wrote:
For Picknell, then, his special techniques -- the intense atmospheric effects, and the palette-knife work that texturally re-creates the foreground sand and plant life -- are not meant to demonstrate his virtuosity, but are rather his effort to re-create as nearly as possible the actual environment of his scene. He used his skill in celebration of God's work, not his own.
Yet, despite Picknell's interest in re-creating the environment, the broader effect is never sacrificed to detail. In this he is far from the American Pre-Raphaelites, such as John W. Hill, Thomas C. Farrer and Fidelia Bridges, who followed the English critic John Ruskin's admonition to pay attention to every detail of nature, for even the slightest leaf could reveal secrets of God's design. Although a Ruskinian strain runs through Emerson, and even Picknell, it is never translated into concentration on minutiae. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests (the) universal grace." Edward Waldo Emerson, in "Relation of Art to Life," tells us how Picknell may have shared these sentiments. Regarding an artist's approach to nature, he writes:
Picknell used light to unify the scenes he painted, to cast a mood overall. Light bathed the painting, and dissolved detail although not in the Impressionist sense. In its "Glare" mode, for example in View From a Meadow (fig. 12), Late Afternoon (fig. 15) and Clam Diggers (fig. 16), it simply made looking for details too difficult; the viewer was forced to stand back and contemplate the whole. Otherwise, clouds and shadows worked to defy the minutiae of details, in such paintings as Annisquam Landscape (fig. 10), A Seaside Road (fig. 13) and When Shadows, Lengthening, Fall (fig. 17).
To Ralph Waldo Emerson, light was a symbol of the divine in both nature and man. Edward Waldo Emerson described his father's views thus:
Picknell's paintings can certainly be described as clean, pure. Man's intersection with nature produces no spoilage, or debris; man's building or working does not deface nature. In Late Afternoon (fig. 15) the houses on the shoreline are tenderly incorporated into the landscape, nestled in the welcoming hills and trees. In Man in a Boat (fig. 19) the fisherman rows with blissful ease, the water barely ruffles from his work. In fact, looking at Picknell's Annisquam paintings as a group there is one striking aspect about them, whether landscapes or figure studies: nature and mankind live in harmony. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
The harmony of man and nature is the over-riding theme of these paintings. It is as if they are an attempt at literal interpretations of Ralph Waldo Emerson's admonitions to "live and work, live and work... for God is here and is the Universe and you." In paintings such as When Shadows, Lengthening, Fall (fig. 17), Lobster Fisherman (fig. 18), and Toiler of the Sea (fig. 20), it is evident that living and working will be rewarded. In Picknell's paintings, always, the sea is bountiful, harvests are good, the trees overflow with olives, livestock grows fat -- God rewards mankind's efforts. In Picknell's paintings there is never drought, nor even worry, nor death. As Ralph Waldo Emerson believed: "If, then, our life is but part of the divine, indestructible life, Heaven is already here if we will see it and yield to it, and the question of Immortality is settled." This was the doctrine of One in All, the doctrine of heaven surrouding us here on earth, and it pervades Picknell's work.
Picknell's workers are not just any people. They are farmers, or fishermen -- those whose hands work with the soil or the sea everyday. Their work keeps them in constant communion with nature; they are the people who understand the changing skies and feel of the earth. Nowhere is a man with a city job to be seen.
Picknell's figure subjects were not unique. One is reminded immediately that Winslow Homer began painting very similar fishermen at about the same time (fig. 21). However, the contrast could not be greater. Picknell's fishermen never worry about approaching storms, or fear their boats will capsize. There is no struggle to bring in the haul. All is serene and simple.
In fact, the benevolence of nature is another striking aspect of Picknell's Annisquam paintings. Nature is "cheerful and long-suffering," according to Ralph Waldo Emerson; or in the words of his son: "Nature does not sulk or despair." Summer storms refresh the air, but do not wreak damage. Mostly the days are bright and hot, or lazy and overcast, but never unbearable -- even when the days are described as "torrid," sweat comes from work, not from debilitating heat.
Besides light, the dominating subject of Picknell's Annisquam paintings is water. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour and is not reminded of the flux of all things?" But the water, also, is always benign. Rivers and seas are never storm-tossed, no shipwrecks are strewn across the shore. Annisquam had a long history as a seafaring community, and shipwrecks and storms were common occurrences. Yet, who would imagine such events while looking at paintings like Moonrise Over the Marshes (fig. 14), A Toiler of the Sea (fig. 20) or From My Studio Windows (fig. 11), with its peaceful view of the Annisquam lighthouse? All is calm, quiescent and reflective. It is the reflective property of water that apparently had a spiritual meaning for Picknell. It represented the inner life, the true self, or soul, that remains when the earthly life is over. Again, I am utilizing Edward Waldo Emerson's words on the relation of art to life:
Picknell was attempting to paint nature in its purest form. He did not compose scenes, although he selected ones that best suited his needs. The critics understood this, and lauded his virtuousity, while at the same time criticising his work for not being artistic. The criticism may have been more rightly directed at Nature itself, but Picknell received it:
Another critic, in a huge article for the Transcript titled "Mr. Picknell's Pictures and the Poets," exclaimed:
But later in the same article the critic noted: "The pictures are lacking in delicacy, fineness, sensibility."
Universally, critics admired Picknell's technique, and applauded his realism, but almost equally universally they did not comment on his meaning, or content. Why Picknell painted the way he did was a question never asked. They seemed to see him as a mechanical genius, with no greater vision beyond his startling manual skills. They recognized that he painted in an altogether individual fashion, and belonged to no school, but did not ask what his individuality might mean. One critic said that here was an artist whose work "leaves no room for the cavils or sophistries of controversy, for the interposition of sentiment, literary or other. It is eminently art for the painter unsophisticated by the dogmas of the schools." This critic approves Picknell's personal vision, but does not offer an explanation for what it might mean.
There were a number of factors working against a more insightful analysis of Picknell's work from the critics. Most importantly, as we have already noted, Picknell did not publish his views. Second, the uniqueness of Picknell's technique was consistently startling to the critics, especially as compared to the poetic impressionism that was fast becoming the style of other artists. It is obvious from most comments on his work that viewers and critics had a difficult time getting beyond their fascination with his technique. But it is equally important to realize that by the 1880s many Emersonian concepts were simply out-of-date. This is not to say that critics were unfamiliar with them. It was the rare educated adult who had not read Nature and Self-Reliance. But by the 1880s Ralph Waldo Emerson appeared slightly quaint. It was the Gilded Age, and progress was the battlecry of the era. Being was passé, life was all about becoming. To stop and contemplate was to waste time, man must move forward and upward as fast as possible. It was the period in which Horatio Alger wrote over one hundred books advocating young men to seek their fortune in the world of business; humans swelled the cities while the disappearance of an agrarian lifestyle was widely noted. If Picknell's technique had not blinded his critics, his work might perhaps have appeared to them at best nostalgic, at worst old-fashioned. It was, perhaps, best for his career that they saw only his "dazzling effects."
Barbara Novak and other historians have pointed out that the great era of Emersonianism in American art was the 1850s to 1870s, the same dates I have pointed out were also its heyday in religious history. The paintings most often referred to as demonstrating Emersonian principles are those termed today "Luminist" -- works by artists such as John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Gifford and Martin Johnson Heade. Later works by artists such as Picknell are rarely analyzed in these terms because society itself had moved beyond this simpler vision of life in America. If Picknell's work does reflect out-of-touch ideas, it is perhaps best explained that he grew up in a certain halcyon environment, left as a young man to study with two men who nurtured his view of life, and returned with his vision already in place. Picknell's consistency was widely commented on; he even successfully translated his Emersonian viewpoint to his European subjects when he returned to France, from 1893 until 1897. He had learned Ralph Waldo Emerson's basic lesson, that when he traveled, he brought with him his vision -- it was not to be sought on distant shores. That which was true and eternal was the same everywhere. Wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journal, way back in 1839:
Ralph Waldo Emerson would have loved Picknell's paintings. But it was left to his son, who knew Picknell best and understood his work best, to put down in writing the essence of his art, and to correctly identify his Emersonian vision. Edward concluded his biography with these insightful words, quoting the Italian artist N.F. Dracopoli, who had been with both Picknell and Emerson in France:
In other words, Picknell had a rare gift -- like Ralph Waldo Emerson, he knew how to be a transparent eyeball.
1 Edward W. Emerson, "William L. Picknell," Catalogue of Paintings by William L. Picknell at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, February 10 - March 2, 1898 (Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son: 1898) 5 - 10.
2 Edward W. Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter," Century September 1901: 710 - 712.
3 William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism (University of Washington, Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, 1980) 17 - 19.
4 Otto Stark, ''The Evolution of Impressionism, " 1895; rpt. Leland Howard, Otto Stark 1859 - 1926 (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1977): 59.
5 Gerdts 18.
6 David Sellin, Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860 - 1910, an exhibit at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, September 24 to November 28, 1982; the Amon Carter Museum, Ft. Worth, December 16, 1982 to February 6, 1983; the Phoenix Art Museum, March 18 to May 1, 1983; and the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., June 10 to August 14, 1983 (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1982) 36 - 38.
7 This exhibition was mounted at Taggart & Jorgensen Gallery in Washington, D.C., from November 7 to December 7, 1991.
8 To avoid confusion, throughout the text the name Emerson alone will always refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson, while Edward Waldo Emerson will be referred to as simply Edward. The term Emersonian will always refer to the philosphy of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
9 Robert D. Richardson, Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)
10 Unpublished letter from Robert D. Richardson, Jr. to the author, February 4, 1996.
11 William Howe Downes and Frank Torrey Robinson, "Later American Masters," New England Magazine April 1896: 148.
12 F.K. Upham, Upham Genealogy: The Descendants of John Upham, of Massachusetts (Albany: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1892).
13 Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter" 710.
14 See, for example, Britannica Encyclopedia of American Art (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973): 438., and Doreen Bolger Burke, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. III (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980): 145.
15 Unless otherwise noted, all information comes from the Upham Genealogy.
16 Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, vol. VII (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962).
19 The story is told in Robert W. Rydell, ''Rediscovering the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition," Revisiting the White City (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1993): 29 - 35.
20 I was surprised to find this information not in the Genealogy, but in Alice Stone Blackwell, Growing Up in Boston's Gilded Age: The Journal of Alice Stone Blackwell, 1872 - 1874, ed. Marlene Deahl Merrill (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1990) 53. Lucy Stone Blackwell, Alice's mother, was editor of the Woman's Journal.
21 From Ralph Waldo Emerson's viewpoint, he had the same relationship with Charles Wentworth Upham as with Picknell's family, and does not seem to have known it. Checking RWE's letters and journals, we find that when speaking of, or writing to, Charles W. Upham he never refers to him as a cousin, only a friend and classmate. In Emerson's own notes on his family genealogy, found in the 1828 and 1858 journals, he includes extensive information on his paternal side of the family but almost none on his maternal side. Beyond knowing that Hannah was his grandmother and that he was somehow descended from original Uphams in Malden, he seems unable to complete the family tree. See bibliography for specific references.
22 James Upham, A Sketch of the Life and Character of Dea. Joshua Upham (Boston: 1885) 32.
23 "Notes" of the North Springfield Baptist Church, courtesy of Mrs. Helen Kingsbury, church historian.
24 I am assuming that Picknell finished school, because, based on the level of education most of his extended family attained, I think it would have been expected. Judging from census records, his immediate family was not so destitute that his working would have been imperative.
25 Unless otherwise noted, all Boston Transcript notices are courtesy of Merl M. Moore, Jr.'s personal files. "Art and Artists," 6:5.
26 "Art and Artists," 18 June 1880: 6:3.
27 "Boston Correspondence," The Art Amateur August 1880: 54.
28 The disastrous results of the competition between Williams & Everett and Doll & Richards galleries for Inness' work is recounted many places, but perhaps the most complete version is in Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., The Life and Work of George Inness (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1977) 53 - 59.
29 Quoted in Peter Marzio, The Art Crusade: An Analysis of American Drawing Manuals, 1820 - 1860 (Washington D.C., 1976) 63.
30 The painting is reproduced in an ad in Antiques Magazine, December 1964: 5. I am punning on the word "mechanical" here, but note that the drawing manuals emphasized the rudiments of size and perspective, and in pursuit of that study a painting of a still life was as useful as a painting of anything else.
31 Ethel Ramsey Davenport, "Ladies Didn't," an unpublished manuscript quoted in Sellin, Americans in Brittany and Normandy 36.
32 Passport information courtesy of Merl M. Moore, Jr.
33 Martha A. S. Shannon, Boston Days of William Morris Hunt (Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1923) 7.
34 For a complete discussion of Boston's Gilded Age, see the essays in Massachusetts in the Gilded Age, ed. Jack Tager and John W. Ifkovic (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1985)
35 Mabel Munson Swan, The Athenaeum Gallery: 1827 - 1873 (Boston: Boston Athenaeum, 1940)
36 Shannon 96 - 97.
37 The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was also founded in 1870.
38 Boston Town Directories.
39 Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. "Luminism in Context: A New View," American Light: The Lumininist Movement 1850 - 1875 (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1980) 216 - 217.
40 Shannon 97.
41 Incidentally, one of Hunt's portrait clients was a "Mrs. Upham." See Shannon 43.
42 Shannon 13.
43 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson," Essays, Addresses and Poems of Edward Waldo Emerson , ed. Raymond Emerson (privately printed, Riverside Press, 1930) 215 and 216.
44 Martin Green, The Problem of Boston: Some Readings in Cultural History (New York: The Norton Library of W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1967) 12.
45 From The Digressions of V by Elihu Vedder. Quoted in Shannon 85 - 86.
46 Catherine Drinker Bowen, Yankee from Olympus (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1944) 19.
47 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902; rpt. New York: The Modern Library, 1994) 37 - 39.
48 Edward Waldo Emerson, "American Life," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 60.
49 James 36.
50 Winthrop s. Hudson and John Corrigan, Religion in America, 5th ed. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992) 259.
51 Tamara Plakins Thornton, Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1785 - 1860 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1989) 209.
52 James Upham, 50 - 58.
53 James Upham, 59.
54 "Notes" of the North Springfield Baptist Church, courtesy of Mrs. Helen Kingsbury, church historian.
55 After Picknell went to Europe it is highly unlikely that he was baptized.
56 Foster W. Russell, Mount Auburn Biographies (Cambridge: Mount Auburn Cemetery, 1953) 131.
57 Transcript, 18 May 1880, 6:4.
58 Transcript, 17 December 1887, 8:5.
59 Exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1893, and in the Boston memorial exhibition in 1898, lent by Daniel Sharp Ford.
60 Handwritten note attached to my copy of the Executor's Sale catalogue.
61 Edward Waldo Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter" 712.
62 I confirmed this fact with Michael Quick's office in Santa Monica, California. Quick is compiling a new catalogue raisonné of Inness' work.
63 Cikovsky 181, 182 and 247.
64 Recall that Picknell was related to a Nichols line via his grandmother.
65 Cikovsky 29.
66 Cikovsky 32 and 189.
67 George Inness, Jr., Life, Art and Letters of George Inness (New York: The Century Co., 1917).
68 Edward Waldo Emerson, "An American Landscape Painter," 710.
71 Edward Waldo Emerson, ''William L. Picknell," 5.
72 "A Painter on Painting," Harper's New Monthly Magazine February 1878: 458.
73 6 February 1874, 4: 1.
74 David Sellin, "The Art of William Lamb Picknell," in William Lamb Picknell, 1853 - 1897 (Washington, D.C.: Taggart & Jorgensen Gallery, 1991) 6.
75 Stebbins 215.
76 "A Painter on Painting" 461.
77 "A Painter on Painting" 461.
78 "A Painter on Painting" 461.
79 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960) 22.
80 See Chapter 3 in Cikovsky.
81 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 219.
82 A history of the Pont-Aven colony is contained in my article, "American Painters in Brittany, 1864 - 1914" American Art Review October - November 1995: 98 - 103 and 167.
83 Benjamin Champney, Sixty Years' Memories of Art and Artists (1900; rpt. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1977) 125.
84 Edward Waldo Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter" 711.
85 Edward Waldo Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter" 711.
86 "The Art of William Lamb Picknell" 7.
87 Edward Waldo Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter" 712.
88 Unidentified artist from the Pont-Aven colony (probably N.F. Dracopoli) quoted in Edward Waldo Emerson, "William L. Picknell" 6.
89 Artists have continued to utilize Annisquam up to the present day.
90 The reference to the Picknell cottage comes from "Art Notes," Philadelphia Telegram, September 15, 1894: "...one looks in vain for Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Picknell... and the company aforetime gathering at the Picknell cottage."
91 In a letter to Joseph Gest, Meakin wrote what value there was in Picknell's company, as he "will not take pupils at any price." Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society, July 12, 1893, no. 327.
92 Quoted in Sellin, '''The Art of William Lamb Picknell" 7.
93 Maitland Armstrong, Day Before Yesterday (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920) 280.
94 Sellin, '''The Art of William Lamb Picknell" 13.
95 "Boston Correspondence," The Art Amateur August 1880: 54.
96 "The Art Gallery," The Art Amateur December 1880: 4.
97 May 1895: 319.
98 It would be interesting to try to document a relationship between Picknell and Caillebotte. Caillebotte painted a "road" painting in Italy in 1873, very similar to Route de Concarneau; he also painted a series of studies of men in boats circa 1877 in France, also many paintings of rivers and canals -- all motifs Picknell later used extensively. Combined with his love of deep perspective, the similarity to Picknell's work seems rather startling.
99 Picknell reported to Armstrong in the previously-mentioned letter, that "(French artist) Pelouse told me to paint an important picture this year. So thought the best way to get out of the scrape was to make it important in size."
100 Quoted in Transcript, 7 September 1880, 3:3.
101 Reviewed in the Manchester Guardian and quoted in Criticisms about Picknell (New York: S. P. Avery, Jr. Art Galleries, 1890) 19.
102 Exhibited often, including the 1893 Salon, the Pennsylvania Academy and the National Academy of Design.
103 American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1990) 231.
104 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson" 225.
105 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Experience," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 261.
106 Unpublished letter from Barbara Ninness of the Annisquam Historical Society to the author, February 2, 1996.
108 Information from volunteers at the Annisquam Historical Society, 1995.
109 The eulogy is contained as a preface in Edward Waldo Emerson, Essays, Addresses and Poems... ix - xiii.
110 Edward at the time was editing his father's manuscripts for publication. The letters are: bMS Am 1280.226 (273, 274 and 292).
111 Details of this trip are available in Lewis Henry Meakin's correspondence to Joseph Gest in the collection of the Cincinnati Historical Society, nos. 339, 340, 342 and 382; and in a letter from Picknell to Henry Mosler, dated December 17, 1893, available on microfilm in the Mosler collection at the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.
112 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 23.
113 Edward Waldo Emerson, "William Lamb Picknell" 5.
114 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 30.
115 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Relation of Art to Life," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 133 - 134.
116 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 31.
117 Edward Waldo Emerson 124.
118 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 218.
119 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 25.
120 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 217.
121 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 217.
122 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Religion of Emerson," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 207.
123 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Relation of Art to Life," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 115.
124 A typical review of Picknell's paintings from The Athenaeum described The Coast of Annisquam (destroyed) as a scene where "torrid heat and the fiercest glare prevail." From Criticisms... 21.
125 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 32.
126 Edward Waldo Emerson, "Relation of Art to Life," Essays, Addresses and Poems... 112 - 113.
127 William Howe Downes and Frank Torrey Robinson 148.
128 19 December 1883, 6:1 - 3.
129 Quoted in a copy ofThe Magazine of Art 407 - 408, given to me by Dr. David Sellin. Full citation is unknown, but the year is 1886.
130 The era is summed up beautifully in Bernard A. Weisberger, Steel and Steam, volume 7 of Time-Life Books's The Life History of the United States (Alexandria: 1964)
131 These views are most fully expressed in Barbara Novak's Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825 - 1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
132 Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal entry of July 3, 1839, Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson 136.
133 Edward Waldo Emerson, "An American Landscape-Painter" 712.
Armstrong, D. Maitland. Day Before Yesterday. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920.
Blackwell, Alice Stone. Growing Up in Boston's Gilded Age: The Journal of Alice Stone Blackwell, 1872 - 1874. ed. Marlene Deahl Merrill. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1990.
Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Yankee from Olympus. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1944.
Britannica Encyclopedia of American Art. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973.
Burke, Doreen Bolger. American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. vol. III. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980.
Cikovsky, Nicolai, Jr. The Life and Work of George Inness. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1977.
------- and Franklin Kelly. Winslow Homer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.
Champney, Benjamin. Sixty Years' Memories of Art and Artists. 1900; rpt. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1977.
Criticisms About Picknell. New York: S.P. Avery, Jr. Art Galleries, 1890.
Downes, William Howe and Frank Torrey Robinson. "Later American Masters." New England Magazine April 1896: 131 - 151.
Ellis, George E. Memoir of Charles Wentworth Upham. Cambridge: Press of John Wilson and Son, 1877.
Emerson, Edward W. "An American Landscape-Painter." Century September 1901: 710 - 712.
-------. The Early Years of the Saturday Club. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1918.
-------. Essays, Addresses and Poems . ed. Raymond Emerson. privately printed at The Riverside Press: 1930.
-------. "William L. Picknell." Catalogue of Paintings by William L. Picknell at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (February 10 - March 2, 1898). Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1898. 5 - 10.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. ed. William H. Gilman, et. al. 16 vols. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1960 - 1982. genealogical references: III: 349 - 357 and XIV: 463. references to Charles Wentworth Upham: I: 38 - 39 and 372, XVI: 133.
-------. The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. vols. 1 - 6, ed. Ralph L. Rusk. vols. 7 - 10, ed. Eleanor Tilton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939 -.
-------. Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson. ed. Stephen E. Whicher. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960.
Executor's Sale. Oil Paintings by the Late Wm. L. Picknell. Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, New York. January 19, 1900.
Fink, Lois Marie. American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1990.
Gerdts, William H. American Impressionism. University of Wasington, Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, 1980.
Green, Martin. The Problem of Boston: Some Readings in Cultural History. New York: The Norton Library of W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1967.
Gustave Caillebotte: A Retrospective Exhibition (an exhibit at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 22, 1976 to January 2, 1977 and the Brooklyn Museum, February 12 to April 24, 1977). Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 1976.
Haskins, David Greene. Ralph Walso Emerson, His Maternal Ancestors. Boston: Cupples Upham and Co., 1887.
Hudson, Winthrop S. and John Corrigan. Religion in America. 5th ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.
Inness, George Jr. Life, Art and Letters of George Inness. New York: The Century Co., 1917.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. 1902; rpt. New York: The Modern Library, 1994.
Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography. vol. VII. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962.
Marzio, Peter C. The Art Crusade: An Analysis of American Drawing Manuals, 1820 - 1860. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1976.
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825 - 1875. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
"A Painter on Painting." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. February 1878: 458 - 461.
Rabb, Lauren. "William Picknell's Family Life." William Lamb Picknell, 1853 - 1897 (an exhibit from November 7 to December 7, 1991). Washington, D.C.: Taggart & Jorgensen Gallery, 1991.
-------. "American Painters in Brittany, 1864 - 1914." American Art Review. October - November 1995: 98 - 103 and 167.
Richardson, Robert D., Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Russell, Foster W. Mount Auburn Biographies. Cambridge: Mount Auburn Cemetery, 1953.
Rydell, Robert W. "Rediscovering the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition." Revisiting the White City. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1993.
Sellin, David. Americans in Brittany and Normany, 1860 - 1910 (an exhibit at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, September 24 to November 28, 1982, the Amon Carter Museum, Ft. Worth, December 16, 1982 to February 6, 1983, the Phoenix Art Museum, March 18 to May 1, 1983 and the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., June 10 to August 14, 1983). Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1982.
-------. "The Art of William Lamb Picknell." William Lamb Picknell, 1853 - 1897 (an exhibit from November 7 to December 7, 1991). Washington, D.C.: Taggart & Jorgensen Gallery, 1991.
Shannon, Martha A.S. Boston Days of William Morris Hunt. Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1923.
Stark, Otto. "The Evolution of Impressionism." 1895; rpt. Leland Howard. Otto Stark 1859 - 1926. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1977. 58 - 60.
Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr., "Luminism in Context: A New View." American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850 - 1875. ed. John Wilmerding. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1980.
Swan, Mabel Munson. The Athenaeum Gallery: 1827 - 1873. Boston: The Boston Athenaeum, 1940.
Tager, Jack and John W. Ifkovic, ed. Massachusetts in the Gilded Age. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.
Thornton, Tamara Plakins. Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life amont the Boston Elite, 1785 - 1860. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989.
Upham, F.K. Upham Genealogy: The Descendants of John Upham, of Massachusetts. Albany: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1892.
Upham, James, D.D. A Sketch of the Life and Character of Dea. Joshua Upham of Salem, Mass. Boston: 1885.
Weisberger, Bernard A. Steel and Steam. vol 7: 1877 - 1890, of
The Life History of the United States. Alexandria: 1964.
About the author
Lauren Rabb is owner/director of The Gallery at 6th and 6th in Tucson, Arizona. Previously, she managed Hollis Taggert Galleries in Washington, D.C. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Rutgers University and a Master's degree from George Washington University and has taught nineteenth-century American art and literature at Georgetown University. Her research on William Lamb Picknell can be found in the Archives of American Art, and she has written a novel based on the life of Picknell's wife.
Resource Library editor's note
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on January 30, 2009 with permission of the author, which was granted to TFAO on August 13, 2008.
This essay is Ms. Rabb's Master's thesis, submitted to the faculty of Columbian School of Arts and Sciences of The George Washington University May 19, 1996. The thesis was directed by David Bjelajac, Associate Professor of Art. It was condensed by Ms. Rabb and published in the January/February 1997 issue of American Art Review as "William Lamb Picknell, The Emersonian Philosophy of his Cape Ann Paintings."
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Shana Herb Johannessen for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text. Resource Library also appreciates the help of Karen Greisman of Gelman Library, George Washington University, for her help in securing a copy of the thesis.
On March 1, 2103 Ms. Rabb asked TFAO to update her address. Her new address is shown in the header of this page. Her contact information at the time of publication of the essay was: The Gallery at 6th and 6th, 439 N. 6th Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85705, or at: 520-903-0650, http://www.sixthandsixth.com/
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