About George Picken

George Picken was a prominent painter among the American generation that matured between the world wars in the first half of 20th century. Born in 1898 to immigrant parents, Picken was raised in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. He served in France in World War I with an ambulance corps and saw action at Verdun. After the war, he was drawn to art, and returned to Paris for an extended stay, drawing and painting both landscapes and city scenes near his studio in St. Sulpice, and absorbing the modernism that marked the European art scene.

Read George's biographical essay written by Diane Koeppel

Picken in front of his painting
Picken then returned to the U.S. and began his formal training at the Art Students League. He studied studio art, illustration and etching during the tenure of Robert Henri, Max Weber and John Sloan. The printmaking and etching techniques that Picken acquired at the League influenced his painterly style, emphasizing graphic linear forms in both his pictorial and later abstract works. Some of his early canvases portray urban themes, using a dark palette which prompted his friend Stuart Davis to ask him why he was always painting “dungeons.” But Picken was also drawn to evocative waterfront scenes, and the studio in his walk-up apartment on East End Avenue had a view of the East River. An early Picken canvas depicting the construction of the East River Drive was purchased by the Whitney Museum.

During the Depression, Picken earned WPA commissions to paint murals for the post offices of Hudson Falls and Fort Edwards, N. Y., and Charden, Ohio. Picken developed a reputation teaching printmaking at the Art Students League from 1933 to 1942 and then joined the faculties at Cooper Union and Columbia University, where he taught painting and lithography for close to twenty years.

Picken at work at his Tyringham studio

Picken’s first patron was Marie Harriman, wife of diplomat and railroad magnate Averell Harriman. His first show was at the Marie Harriman Gallery in the 1930’s. In the 1940’s, with a recommendation from Edward Hopper, he began a long and successful relationship with the prestigious Frank Rehn Gallery, whose roster included Reginald Marsh, Charles Burchfield, Henry Varnum Poor and Hopper. Picken would have regular one-man shows there until his death in 1971 at the age of 73.

Picken’s work gradually became more formal and colorful, and he experimented boldly with abstract expressionism in the 1950’s and 60’s. While his Ashcan-influenced drawings and paintings of the 20’s and 30’s may be considered his “high period”, his later work explores abstraction with decisive energy. In his last posthumous show, in 2001 at the Monique Goldstrom Gallery in Soho, the focus was on his dynamic exploration of color field and expressionist forms during the 1950’s and 60’s.

In his last decade, inspired by his Berkshires home at Tyringham, and a two-year residency at the Kansas City Art Institute, Picken returned to figurative painting and created some of his most lyrical landscapes, as well as reinterpretations of his earlier urban themes.

His work is included in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Newark Museum and many others. After his death, Picken was represented by art dealer and historian Ron Pisano. He has had posthumous one man exhibitions at David Findlay Gallery, MB Modern, Monique Goldstrom Gallery and the Art Students’ League.

Since Pisano’s death, George's estate has been handled by his son, David Picken, and his grandson, Niles Jaeger.

George Picken