The original live album was recorded at Newcastle City Hall in North East England. The opening track of the album was played on a Harrison & Harrisonpipe organ which was installed in the City Hall in 1928. The organ console is some way above stage level, at the top of a stepped terrace used for choral performances. The drum roll connecting the opening track to the next served to cover Emerson's dash back down to the stage.
Due to management conflicts, the recording was not released until after Tarkus, their second studio album. The record company was reluctant to release a classical suite as an album, and insisted it be released on their classical music label instead. Fearing that this would lead to poor sales, ELP instead decided to shelve the work. After the success of their second album, however, the label agreed to release Pictures as a budget live album.
There was also a video made of a different live performance (Lyceum Theatre, 9 December 1970). This had a limited theatrical release in 1973, and a remastered DVD release with Dolby surround sound in 2000. Being a live album, sometimes Keith Emerson's voltage-controlled Moog oscillators went out of tune, due to humidity and temperature.
The original album cover, commissioned to William Neal who designed and painted every canvas, used a gatefold sleeve, depicting on the outside blank picture frames labelled with the titles of the pieces: "The Old Castle", "The Gnome", etc. The paintings were huge oil paintings full of ELP symbolism, like the Tarkus background in the "Hut" and the white dove embossed into the titanium white oil paint in "Promenade" (visible only on the original painting).
On the inner sleeve, all of the paintings were revealed, but one remains blank: "Promenade". The musical piece, of course, is not about a picture, but represents a walk through the gallery. Some CD covers use only the "revealed" version.All of the paintings were later hung at the Hammersmith Town Hall, London, and photographed by Keith Morris and Nigel Marlow, both former graduates from Guildford School of Art.