American painter (1884-1926?). Born to wealthy parents in Salem, Massachusetts, he never knew any significant hardship and, since he was expected to eventually take over his father's cushy bank job, was allowed to follow his artistic whims. Unfortunately for Papa Pickman, after school, Richard decided he wanted to be an artist instead of a banker. He was able to convince his parents to bankroll his move to Boston, where he embarked on his artistic career -- and on what appeared to be his true vocation: shameless debauchery.
Most of Pickman's antics didn't end up causing major scandals -- a bit of drinking, a bit of opium use. He was well-known as a skirt chaser and got at least one girl pregnant (she miscarried after being attacked by an "unknown individual" in an alley). He also started hanging out with a group of subversives, literati, and wannabe occultists and cultivated a reputation as a sort of Yankee Oscar Wilde -- besides peppering his conversations with witty and cynical bon mots, he also indulged in at least two homosexual affairs, possibly just for the sake of appearances.
For all his excesses, Pickman was also dedicated to art. When he wasn't debauching, he was painting, feverishly, almost desperately. He preferred working as a portrait and "slice-of-life" artist, often roaming Boston with a camera to take photographs of interesting people, scenes, or backgrounds that he could paint in his studio later. He dabbled in landscape and still life painting, but pronounced himself bored with them because they lacked the "vital properties of life and movement." His specialty had always been faces and expressions -- his subjects' faces were masterpieces of emotion, with every twitch of the eyelid, every curve of the lip, every arc of the eyebrow rendered in subtle perfection.
But despite his artistry, Pickman's works were not particularly popular with the public. He preferred to focus on the seamy, scandalous underbelly of the city, on criminals, on prostitutes, on filth, on decay, and on the spectacle of the high-born and virtuous revealed as being as depraved and wicked as anyone else. Unfortunately, even for an artist of Pickman's talent, that theme runs stale pretty quickly. In 1922, he stopped painting for a while in an attempt to recharge his creative battery. He began reading up on Boston's history, looking for inspiration in the city's past. He told his friends that he'd found interesting material in a number of different sources, ranging from old city maps and genealogies to accounts of the Salem witch trials, and he announced that he was departing for a while to do some on-site research in the older areas of the city, in the graveyards, and in the city's subway. He wasn't seen by anyone for almost six months, leading to speculation that he'd been murdered.
When Pickman finally reappeared, he refused to say where he'd been, other than to tell friends that he'd "rediscovered his reason for living." He quickly began painting and displaying his works again. Though critics again hailed his artistic skill and vision, they and the rest of the public were appalled by his new paintings. Nearly all of his new works depicted, with Pickman's trademark clarity and realism, hideous monstrosities eating corpses. The monsters resembled hairless combinations of humans and feral dogs and looked all the more loathsome for their sardonic, frighteningly intelligent expressions. The best-known of Pickman's so-called Ghoul Period was the sickening "Ghoul Feeding," which focused on one of the monsters, snacking on the fairly fresh corpse of a young girl that it has just exhumed. The ghoul is holding the child's head in its jaws and seems to be smiling slightly at the viewer.
Other notable Pickman paintings -- many of which were not seen in public until they were exhibited briefly in the 1970s -- included "The Lesson", a picture set in Boston's puritan past, depicting a circle of ghouls patiently teaching a normal human child how to feed upon a cadaver; "The Changeling", another historical work, in which a Puritan father reads scriptures to his family -- all listen piously, except one of the older children, who somewhat resembles one of Pickman's ghouls and who leers mockingly at his siblings; "Subway Accident", set in modern Boston, in which a cluster of ghouls swarms up from a tunnel and attacks a group of terrified commuters on a subway platform; and "Excavation", an underground painting with very odd lighting resembling infrared photography -- the painting shows a ghoul dragging a corpse directly from its coffin into a tunnel under a cemetery. Some of Pickman's paintings exhibit a very dark sense of humor. In one, a gang of ghouls are shown reading and cackling over the entries of a modern Boston tourist guidebook; the title of the painting is "Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow Lie Buried in Mount Auburn."
Pickman's Ghoul Period earned him a lot of artistic respect -- he was hailed in some corners as one of America's greatest artists, though even his most ardent supporters admitted to not being able to stomach looking at his paintings for longer than a few minutes at a time. His works were prized by some collectors, but even they preferred not to display them. Most galleries refused to exhibit his paintings at all.
Pickman disappeared from his home in 1926. Police were reluctant to investigate his disappearance as a murder or suicide, since they thought he might just be off recharging his creative batteries again. His family from Salem took his belongings home and reportedly burned all of the photographs and paintings from his apartment.
Every once in a while, someone will discover a new Pickman painting. These are usually found to be fakes when it becomes clear that they were painted after his disappearance.
Encyclopedia Cthulhiana by Daniel Harms, p. 167-168.
"Pickman's Model" by H. P. Lovecraft