Works by Picknell are very special, as he was part of a small group of Americans who ventured to France in the 1880s and worked in a manner so close to his European counterparts. These artists are considered expatriates, and at the time there was the hope that as they returned home with these works, collectors would accept them and buy them as they did the European masters. They are important precursors to Impressionism. And indeed Picknell is often one of the Americans sited as initiating the “glare aesthetic” and techniques that introduced a change of style in the United States.
Hunting, Pont-Aven is a marvelously rich, expressive and dynamic composition by Picknell. It was very avant-garde during the time frame of 1887 to find a composition that would have so high a ratio of landscape to sky. Gustave Courbet was one of the few artists who would daringly experiment with this type of format as academic Salon painting still dominated in Europe. Picknell was influenced greatly by such artists as Wylie, Bastien-Lepage and Inness, but in this work we see a direct correlation with Courbet. Courbet did numerous depictions of deer in his canvases, depicting them simply within the environs of a forest and at other times being pursued or killed by a hunter. The hunter is almost center in the canvas which was also an avant-garde concept, and yet he is not a focal point. Instead both he and the deer feel as though they are a part of the tapestry of the landscape, integral to all that is around them. There is a wild feel to the work, as the hunter is descending a treacherous and rocky incline and will have to struggle with his kill below. As with Thoreau and many of the undercurrents in literature and art at this time, this role of Man within nature and his relationship to it, is natural and beautiful. Likewise the trees at the top of the ravine are classic Pont-Aven trees that are beautiful, yet gnarled and somewhat grotesque in their form. The use of very dark greens and browns in the landscape, painted in a thick and muscular manner is also evocative of Courbet. It makes one wonder if this painting is not a bit of a homage to Courbet. The time of day is specific, as it is very late afternoon when the sky is beginning to color, and the landscape is falling into deep shadow. Some of Picknell's canvases from this year depict peasants with their flocks or herds, exhibiting a gentle quality. This work, however, is masculine, avant-garde and ambitious in every respect except for its size.
Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Newtown, CT