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Picosecond laser pulses at a wavelength of 266 nm have been focused onto a solid metal cathode in coincidence with high gradient electric fields to produce high brightness electron beams. At power densities exceeding 109 W/cm2, a solid density plasma is formed and intense bursts of electrons are emitted from the target accompanied by macroscopic surface damage. An inferred ∼1 μC of integrated charge with an average current of ∼20 A is emitted from a radio‐frequency cavity driven at electric field gradients of ∼80 MV/m. In another experiment, where a dc extraction field of ∼6 MV/m is used, we observed an electron charge of ∼0.17 μC. Both results are compared with the Schottky effect and the Fowler–Nordheim field emission. We found that this laser‐induced intense electron emission shares many features with the explosive electron emission processes. No selective wavelength dependence is observed in the production of the intense electron emission in the dc extraction field. The integrated electrons give an apparent quantum efficiency of ∼1.2%, which is one of the highest reported to date from metal photocathodes at these photon energies.