"Any magazine cover hack can splash paint around and call it a nightmare or a Witches' Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true. That's because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear -- the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness."
Rating: Five shoggoths out of five
Nutshell: A Boston art aficionado befriends an artist named Pickman, whose nightmarish paintings are cause for his exile from Boston society.
Commentary: This tale is a very remarkable example of Lovecraft at his creepy best, and it is an excellent of Lovecraft's superb talent of interweaving real-world locations, events, and people with otherworldly things. It is also one of his most famous examples of his penchant for coinciding the climax of the storyline with the last sentence of the story.
History, Esoterica, and Factoids: "Pickman's Model" was published in October 1927 in Weird Tales.
The entire story is set in very real locations in Boston, Massachusetts. The house that Lovecraft used as a model for Pickman's residence, in fact, was a very real location in Boston's ancient North End, but the house was demolished sometime before the end of 1927.
The "Art Club" mentioned in the tale as the Boston Art Club, established in 1854 and disbanded in 1950.
Since "Pickman's Model" centers around the artist of the weird, Lovecraft references many artists and illustrators that he admired.
Henri Fuseli (Swiss, 1741-1825) painted one of the most famous icons of weird art, The Nightmare. He was also mentioned in "The Colour Out of Space".
Gustave Dore (French, 1832-1883) also excelled in art of the fantastic as a painter and an illustrator. His illustrations include full sets of images for The Divine Comedy, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Don Quixote, and The Bible. Dore was also mentioned in "The Horror at Red Hook". Lovecraft mentioned in a 1916 letter to Rheinhart Kleiner that one of Dore's illustrations was the possible inspiration for things he called "night-gaunts", figures that he often sketched and had nightmares about. The "night-gaunts" show up in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath".
Sidney Sime (English, 1867-1941) was an illustrator perhaps best known for his illustrations for the books of Lord Dunsany. His works are rarely seen these days, though he is often compared to Blake in his ability to capture a fantastic vision. A nice web site about his work can be found here. He is also mentioned in "The Call of Cthulhu".
"Angarola of Chicago" refers to Anthony Angarola (American, 1893-1929), a noted illustrator from Chicago, IL. Lovecraft mentioned in a 1932 letter to Richard Ely Morse that Angarola had offered to illustrate Lovecraft's "The Outsider" after another illustrator had already been hired. He was also mentioned alongside Sime in "The Call of Cthulhu".
Goya (born Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Spanish, 1746-1828) is probably the most famous of the all artists Lovecraft mentions. His paintings and illustrations draw thousands of admirers at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. Along with Velazquez, El Greco, and Picasso, he is firmly entrenched as one of the finest Spanish artists (an excellent biography can be read here). He was deaf, and later in life, nearly blind. He is known for his scenes of violence, inspired by the atrocities he witnessed during Spain's battle for independence from Napoleanic France. (A personal recommendation from the web minion: if you ever find yourself in Madrid, buy a ticket to the Museo del Prado and treat yourself to the finest collection of Goya paintings in the world.)
The "witch ancestor hanged in 1692" refers to incidents during the Salem Witch Trials.
Cotton Mather was the minister of Boston's Old North Church during the Salem Witch Trials. He was a major ecclesiastical leader of the region.
"Andros" refers to Sir Edmond Andros (1637-1714, also referred to in "The Shunned House"), governor of New England, 1686-1689, who was very unpopular with the American colonists. He was deposed of by a popular revolt in Boston and shipped back to England.
"Phipps" refers to Sir William Phipps, who was the first royal governor of Massachusetts beginning in 1692. He supported the Salem Witch Trials by creating a commission to try the accused witches (it was disbanded when his wife became one of the accused).
Lovecraft refers to contemporary fantasy writer Clark Ashton Smith, who he admired greatly. (He also mentions Smith in "The Call of Cthulhu" and "At the Mountains of Madness".) Smith and Lovecraft had a strong friendship, communicating through volumes of letters. A poem written by Lovecraft dedicated to Smith is the last non-letter manuscript that Lovecraft ever wrote. Smith was one of several contemporaries of Lovecraft who wrote tales in Lovecraft's Mythos world. Smith, interestingly enough, also dabbled in the visual arts, both as an illustrator and a soapstone sculptor.
The character of Pickman later turns up as a character in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath".
Film: "Pickman's Model" has never been made into a feature-length film, but it did end up being produced as episode 17 of NBC's Night Gallery, which was produced by the great Rod Serling (of Twilight Zone fame, of course). The narrator's character was changed from male to female (for a romantic edge), and the critter is actually shown in the end of the episode (which turns out to be, unfortunately, rather laughable). It's something of a lame episode, but it did garner an Emmy nomination for makeup effects in 1971.
Availability: "Pickman's Model" can be found both in More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi and Peter Cannon, eds.), in The Dream Cycle of H. P. Lovecraft: Dreams of Terror and Death, and in Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. The Annotated Lovecraft provides full footnotes, but Bloodcurdling Tales and Dreams of Terror and Death contains more stories for your hard-earned dollar.
The Nightmare, 1781
Illustration for Dante Alighieri's Inferno
How Nuth would have Practised his Art upon the Gnoles
Illustration from The Kingdom of Evil, 1924
Saturn Devouring His Children, circa 1822
Clark Ashton Smith (American, 1893-1961)
Clark Ashton Smith (American, 1893-1961)
Painting from Night Gallery, episode 17, which aired on NBC December 1, 1971, and featured a segment named "Pickman's Model".