Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “Pickman’s Model”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.
This is the second time I’ve read this 1926 story, and I think it’s a good, mid-level Lovecraft effort.
It’s set in New England, Boston to be specific.
What I found most interesting on rereading this story was the narrator and Pickman’s love of the macabre in art which places the very talented Pickman outside the pale as far as the conventional, conservative Boston art community is concerned. One gets the sense that Lovecraft considered the aesthetic of horror seriously, regarded it as a serious and worthy subject of art and disdained the conventional society that probably didn’t agree. (It’s hard to conclusively. Horror in the pulps was probably not too highly regarded because of its context, but I suspect there were well regarded “mainstream” horror events that society creatures and elite taste setters might have approved of). The taste seems to have extended to the visual arts since he mentions some not only Dore but Goya and also Lovecraft’s friend, the visual artist Clark Ashton Smith (who was also a poet and fiction writer). He also mentions a couple of painters I’ve never heard: Angarola and Sime. [I’ve since seen some of their work, and Sime illustrated Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgson, and Arthur Machen.]
The narrator of the story, mirroring Lovecraft, remarks on the wonder and terror to be found in ancient places.
There is some macabre humor here, an uncommon feature in most of Lovecraft’s most celebrated stories, with a painting of ghouls laughing at a painting titled “Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow Lie Buried in Mount Auburn” — because the ghouls have unburied them.
Miscegenation — or, at least, inhuman origins — shows up here with the suggestion that Pickman does not have entirely human ancestry.
Upon the third time reading this story in 2014, I realized this is one of the rare Lovecraft ones constructed as an immediately recounted story of one side of a conversation.
I noticed Lovecraft’s use of contemporary slang, the advice to the narrator to “take a drink” (which seems to be something of a temperance joke because the specific nature of the drink Eliot is advised to take is black coffee).
I still think the end reveal of the photograph is improbably delayed given that this is an unconsidered, oral outpouring of the narrator. But I also have to admit it still works on an emotional level.
More reviews of Lovecraft’s fiction are indexed on the Lovecraft page.