"Pickman's Model" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft, written in September 1926 and first published in the October 1927 issue of Weird Tales. It was adapted for television in 1972 as an episode of the Night Gallery anthology series.
Plot summary[edit | edit source]
The story revolves around a Bostonian painter named Richard Upton Pickman who creates horrifying images. His works are brilliantly executed, but so graphic that they result in the revocation of his membership in the Boston Art Club and he is shunned by his fellow artists.
The narrator is a friend of Pickman, who, after the artist's mysterious disappearance, relates to another acquaintance how he was taken on a tour of Pickman's personal gallery, hidden away in a run-down backwater slum of the city. As the two delved deeper into Pickman's mind and art, the rooms seemed to grow ever more evil and the paintings ever more horrific, ending with a final enormous painting of an unearthly, red-eyed and vaguely canine humanoid balefully chewing on a human victim.
A noise sent Pickman running outside the room with a gun while the narrator reached out to unfold what looked like a small piece of rolled paper attached to the monstrous painting. The narrator heard some shots and Pickman walked back in with the smoking gun, telling a story of shooting some rats, and the two men departed.
Afterwards the narrator realized that he had nervously grabbed and put the rolled paper in his pocket when the shots were fired. He unrolled the paper to reveal that it is a photograph not of the background of the painting, but of the subject. Pickman drew his inspirations not from a diseased imagination, but from monsters that were very much real.
Inspiration[edit | edit source]
Pickman's aesthetic principles of horror resemble those in Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (1925–1927), on which he was working at the time the short story was composed. (EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia) When Thurber, the story's narrator, notes that "only the 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", he is echoing Lovecraft the literary critic on Poe, who "understood so perfectly the very mechanics and physiology of fear and strangeness". (HPL: "Supernatural Horror in Literature")
The story compares Pickman's work to that of a number of actual artists, including John Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Sidney Sime (1867–1941), Anthony Angarola (1893–1929), Francisco Goya (1746–1828), and Clark Ashton Smith (1893–1961).
Technique[edit | edit source]
The technique is unusual for Lovecraft. The first-person narrative takes the form of a monologue directed at the reader in effect as a fictive listener, whose presumed interjections are implied via the narrator's responses to them. Tangential comments reveal that the conversation takes place in the narrator's Boston drawing room at eve, where the two have just arrived via taxi. Pickman's narrative-within-the-narrative is also a monologue, directed in turn at the outer narrator as listener. Both narratives are colloquial, casual and emotionally expressive, which is atypical of Lovecraft's protagonists and style.
Characters[edit | edit source]
Richard Upton Pickman[edit | edit source]
Pickman is depicted as a renowned Boston painter and photograph notorious for his ghoulish works. His four-times-great-grandmother was hanged by Cotton Mather during the Salem witch trials of 1692.
"Pickman" and "Upton" are, in actuality, old Salem names. (EXP: Lovecraft Remembered)
His known painting are:
- "Ghoul Feeding"
- "The Lesson": Ghouls teaching a child how to feed.
- A cross scetion of Beacon Hill with ghouls living in galleries.
- "Subway Accident": Ghouls attacking a crowd in the Boylston Street subway by coming though a crack.
- "Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow Lie Buried in Mount Auburn": Ghouls in a vault reading and laughing at a Boston guide book. This probably refers to physician Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and poets Amy Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at Mount Auburn's cemetery.
Thurber[edit | edit source]
The narrator, who gets to know Pickman while working on "a monograph about weird art", describes himself as "fairly 'hard-boiled'", as well as "middle-aged and decently sophisticated". He is apparently a World War I veteran: "I guess you saw enough of me in France to know I'm not easily knocked out."
Given this description, EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia finds Thurber's horror at Pickman's paintings "implausible...strained and hysterical".
Thurber is one of several Lovecraft characters to develop a phobia as a result of his horrific experiences; (EXP: Lovecraft Remembered) his fear of subways and other underground spaces resembles that of the narrator of "The Lurking Fear", who "cannot see a well or a subway entrance without shuddering".
Eliot[edit | edit source]
The character that Thurber tells his story to, Eliot, is effectively the story's audience surrogate. While none of his lines are printed, his questions and interjections are implied by Thurber's dialogue.
Setting[edit | edit source]
|“||What do maps and records and guide-books really tell of the North End? Bah! At a guess I'll guarantee to lead you to thirty or forty alleys and networks of alleys north of Prince Street that aren't suspected by ten living beings outside of the foreigners that swarm them.||„|
Prince Street, like Henchman Street, Charter Street, and Greenough Lane, are actual North End, Boston streets. Though the story is vague about the precise location of Pickman's studio, it was apparently inspired by an actual North End building. Lovecraft wrote that when he visited the neighborhood with Donald Wandrei, he found "the actual alley & house of the tale utterly demolished, a whole crooked line of buildings having been torn down". (HPL: letter to Lillian D. Clark, July 17, 1927; Selected Letters IV; EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia)
Critical reaction[edit | edit source]
Fritz Leiber, in his essay "A Literary Copernicus", praised the story for the "supreme chill" of its final line. (EXP: ''Lovecraft Remembered) Peter Cannon calls the tale "a well-nigh perfect example of Edgar Allan Poe's unity of effect principle", though he cites as its "one weakness" the "contrived ending". (EXP: Lovecraft Remembered)
An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia dismisses the story as "relatively conventional".
Media adaptation[edit | edit source]
- In 1971, writer Roy Thomas and artist Tom Palmer adapted "Pickman's Model" for the Marvel Comics horror anthology Tower of Shadows (#9 Jan. 1971), reprinted in Marvel's Masters of Terror (#2 Sept. 1975).
- In 1972, the television show Night Gallery adapted "Pickman's Model" as a segment. In the TV version, the narrator is a woman who has fallen in love with Pickman.
- In 1981, Austinite Cathy Welch created a short, thirty minute version of the story. The basic story was preserved, with the tale of Thurber's night at Pickman's being relayed by him to his skeptical girlfriend.
- The Chilean horror movie Chilean Gothic (2000) is loosely based on "Pickman's Model", where a private detective searches for Pickman in the Island of Chiloe in the south of Chile, whose mythology is full of monsters and grotesque creatures.
- A Short Film About John Bolton (2003) is a film by Neil Gaiman with a similar concept
Continuity[edit | edit source]
- Someone empties all six bullets from a revolver. (HPL: "Herbert West--Reanimator", "The Thing on the Doorstep")
- In 1926, Pickman vanished from his home (HPL: "History of the Necronomicon" and reappears as a ghoul who aids Randolph Carter in his journeys. (HPL: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath)
- The portrayal of Pickman in Dream-Quest may be influenced by Tars Tarkas (ADJ: A Princess of Mars [Edgar Rice Burroughs], EXP "Randolph Carter, Warlord of Mars", Black Forbidden Things Robert M. Price)
Notes[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- S. T. Joshi (ed.) ed. (1984) . "Pickman's Model". In S. T. Joshi (ed.) ed., The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. Definitive version.
- S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon (eds.) ed. (1999) . "Pickman's Model". In S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon (eds.) ed., More Annotated Lovecraft (1st ed.). New York: Dell. With explanatory footnotes.