William Picknell was a plein-air painter whose ability to capture brilliant light and crisp air made his work highly sought after. His abilities placed him in the forefront of outdoor landscape painting. 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. Fortunately Picknell was undeterred and pursued his study by studying the work of painters like George Inness. At the time Inness was in Italy. Picknell’s unflagging interest persuaded a sympathetic uncle to provide a one-time $1000 stipend for him to follow Inness to Italy. Two years later, Picknell attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and then moved to a small village along the Brittany coast where an internation assembly of artists established a colony. In 1876, Picknell exhibited The Road to Concarneau in the Paris Salon and was awarded an honorable mention. This recognition was high praise and solidified his future as an artist. Not long after he began exhibiting his work in England and came back to America having sold all of his paintings.
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.
Nine years later, he married and returned to France, where he recalled his earlier romance with the country. In 1897, Picknell’s health took a turn for the worse, perhaps as a result of the loss of his only child. He came home to Boston at the pinnacle of a very promising career to die at the tender age of 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. 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.