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Frank A. Bicknell

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Frank A. Bicknell
Lyme Art Colony
American, (February 17, 1866–April 9, 1943) In Lyme: 1902-1940
Frank Bicknell remains mysterious. He is frequently described as tall, handsome, and outgoing, but no photograph of him has been located. He lived in Old Lyme for nearly forty years, yet little can be said about his life there, not, indeed, about his life before that.

Bicknell was born in Augusta, Maine, in 1866, and later moved to Malden, Massachusetts, where he studied art with Albion H. Bicknell, presumably a relative. In 1887 he exhibited at the National Academy of Design. The following year he moved from Malden to New York City, and by 1893 he was in Paris studying at the Academie Julien under Bouguereau and Robert Fleury. His entry in New York’s National Academy exhibition that year depicted an old washhouse along the River Eure-Chartres, suggesting a Barbizon approach not unlike that of his first teacher and namesake.

In 1894 his address was the Salmagundi Club in New York, possibly indicating his recent return to this country, and his entry in the National Academy annual that year was "An Old Apple-Orchard, France" (which he priced at $500, an amount roughly four times that he had put on his earlier paintings).

Curiously, Bicknell’s address for the next few years was "The Tower," Madison Square Garden, one of the newest, most celebrated buildings in the city. The Spanish tower that architect Stanford White designed to crown what was essentially an amusement center that included a theater, restaurant, concert hall and roof garden was the second tallest structure in the city.

He had money enough to travel to Japan during this period, for paintings he exhibited at the National Academy in the late 1890s are of Japanese subjects, and some artists’ dictionaries of the early 1900s note his trip to Japan.

Bicknell came to Old Lyme early, about 1902, and after that seemed to limit his travels to the eastern United States, often Maine or Cape Cod. A bachelor, Bicknell often referred to the other colonists as "the family." Arthur Heming, whose reminiscences of Old Lyme were published posthumously in 1971, described a typical evening in the Griswold House living room after a hard day’s work. The group around the fireplace: Metcalf, Woodrow Wilson, Hassam, "Uncle" Howe, DuMond, Robinson and Rook. "Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. DuMond, and Miss Pope and Bicknell were having a rubber of bridge, and Miss Florence was playing the piano while Hoffman was accompanying her upon his flute." Mrs. Wilson bought some of Bicknell’s paintings.

Bicknell and Miss Florence became good friends. His trips to Old Lyme meant a good deal to him. In a 1907 letter from North Hackensack, New Jersey, where he then had a winter home, he wrote:

"My dear Miss Florence:
Can you – and will you stow me away somewhere in the big house about the last week in September? Or the first week of October at the latest? Please do not say no – Put me in the barn if you will -- but come to Old Lyme I must sometime this Autumn."

Inexplicably, in about 1919, Bicknell began to teach. He became Associate professor at the Colllege of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute of Technology, for six years, and apparently he taught no more after that.

Bicknell was a member of many organizations, among them the Lotos Club, the Salmagundi Club, the MacDowell Club, the National Arts Club, the Academy of National Art, the American Art Association of Paris, the Pittsburgh Art Association, and the Chicago Water Color Society. He was elected to associate membership in the National Academy of Design in 1913.

After 1916, Bicknell’s home in Old Lyme was one that had belonged to fellow artist Lewis Cohen, a Barbizon painter who bequeathed the place to him. Until failing health forced Bicknell to give it up, he was a prominent member of the Old Lyme group, who specialized in painting the local landscape at different times of day and in different seasons of the year. He died in 1943 in a nursing home in Essex. If there had been relatives, certainly his history would be better remembered.

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