The brilliantly written horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft illustrate the fear of the unknown, or what we would refer to as “Cosmic Horror.” “Pickman’s Model,” one of his finest and scariest short stories, evokes such fear. This spine-chilling “Lovecraftian horror” is the inspiration for Netflix’s “Cabinet of Curiosities,” Episode 5 of the same name. Although director Keith Thomas has given the narrative a distinctive visual presentation, the original story has tried to say something more. Let’s explore the significance of Pickman’s actual Model as portrayed in the original short story.
What Was “Pickman’s Model”? Who Was That Demon?
The short story “Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft is essentially Thurber’s prolonged monologue dedicated to his friend Eliot. He believed Pickman was a brilliant realist, but he couldn’t figure out whether Pickman was a human or a demon himself. Pickman drove Thurber down to his cellar to take a photograph of the background so that he could paint it on his canvas. Thurber, however, soon discovered that Pickman had gone there to take pictures of his Model, a horrific creature with blazing red eyes.
Earlier, we discussed how Pickman’s artistic style was different from other artists of his time. His paintings did not depict beauty but revealed the horrors of the dark world. However, what still remained a mystery was who could be Pickman’s Model that inspired his art. In simple words, who was even the demon seen at the end? Thurber started having nightmares after Pickman showed him the portrait of his ancestor, Lavinia. During the 16th-century witch trials, Lavinia was hanged on the gallows for witch slander. Rumors spread that Lavinia feasted on her husband’s flesh with members of her coven. Pickman, however, did not believe these were rumors because he told Thurber that he could still hear them on his floor.
Presumably, Lavinia was a notorious devil-worshipper who might have offered her husband to the Devil. Similarly, Pickman might have been chosen to carry on the duty to worship the Devil. Finally, when Pickman brings Thurber to the dark cellar of his huge mansion, he is unable to bear the demonic vibe and shoots Pickman. Pickman revealed to him that he had never created any pictures but painted what he saw. From his hand, a photograph fell, showing a hellish creature standing in that cellar. Thurber had seen the creature before in Pickman’s numerous paintings. Finally, as Pickman took his last breath, the same beast emerged from a deep well and dragged him into the shadows. Pickman’s Model was nothing more than the evil creature that was revealed at the very end. In his entire life, he had seen these supernatural creatures, which later inspired his art. It is not his fault that he cannot depict feminine beauty or stunning landscapes in a conventional way. Instead, one could blame Pickman’s ancestry for the same as these dark forces might have caused a curse on his family because of which all the members had to witness such darkness. Or perhaps, these dark forces had transformed Pickman and his lineage into one of these demons who would dwell in that deep well after his death.
How Did Thurber’s Life Become the “Pickman’s Model”?
Now there was another question that remained unanswered at the end of the story, and it was Thurber’s fate. If Pickman went to the dark cellar to paint the demonic beast only, why did he take Thurber with him? It’s because Pickman might have chosen him as his next Model. Thurber was the only victim of his gruesome painting and its underlying darkness. Therefore, he could only be Pickman’s ideal Model. Even if Pickman was really a devil worshipper, he might have thought to offer Thurber to the Devil. Finally, when Thurber is forced to kill him, Pickman’s wish remains unfulfilled. But he and his demonic entities did not release Thurber so easily. Thurber’s art gallery once more showcased all Pickman’s paintings that were earlier destroyed in the cellar. Some of those paintings included a satanic figure or a mother dedicating her child’s head to the Devil. When Thurber’s eyes could take no more, he went home, where the biggest shock awaited him. He observed that his wife had her eyes gouged out and was preparing to serve the Devil with the head of their child. Thurber had tried hard to recover from the terrifying effects of Pickman’s paintings, but in the end, it was of no use. Maybe he was completely delusional to see his family in such a state, or his whole life had served as “Pickman’s model.”