Pauline A. Pinckney, art historian, was born around 1889 in Austin, one of six children of Theodore Frelinghuysen and Pauline (Mellette) Pinckney. She enrolled in the University of Texas in 1909 and studied there for several years before earning a bachelor degree in 1917. She later received a master's degree from Columbia University. She began her career as an instructor of art at Texas Woman's College (now Texas Wesleyan University) in Fort Worth and remained there until 1929, when she moved to Southern Methodist University. She later taught at Purdue University and Kansas State College. While teaching, she also furthered her own skills in painting and sculpting. Other career positions included directing research for the Index of American Design in Washington, D.C., and serving as a consultant on folk arts for the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art).
In the course of her career, Pinckney increasingly turned her interests to research and writing on art history. In the 1930s she published several articles in magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, New York Times, and Dallas Morning News, on art, architecture, furniture design, and related topics. She also wrote several reviews of art books and exhibits during this time. In 1940 her first book, American Figureheads and Their Carvers, was published by W. W. Norton. This work is reputed to give the first survey of the art of decorative ship carving. Pinckney published two articles on ship figureheads in 1941 and in 1948 assembled a photographic exhibit of American figureheads at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.
Her best-known work, Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century, was published in 1967 for the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art by the University of Texas Press. From research in diaries, letters, newspapers, and other archival sources she compiled biographical sketches of more than fifty Texas artists. The book, one of the first of its type, emphasized the relationship of Texas artists to their culture. It included more than 100 reproductions and an introduction by Texas painter Jerry Bywaters. An exhibit of paintings selected for inclusion in the book was held at the University of Texas at Austin and at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth shortly after the book's publication. Painting in Texas also won an award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Pinckney spent most of her later life in Austin. She was active in the Texas Fine Arts Association. She died in Austin on October 25, 1982, and was buried there in Oakwood Cemetery. She was survived by one sister and several nieces and nephews.