Edward Hicks

 

HICKS, EDWARD
(1780–1849)
was the creator of perhaps the most widely recognized and best loved of all American folk paintings. His instantly identifiable
Peaceable Kingdoms,
sixty-two versionsof which are known, are appealing in their apparent, yet deceptive, innocence and in the extraordinary exuberance of their jam-packed compositions. As art historiansEleanor Mather and Caroline Weekley have observed, the images, which evolved in form considerably over the course of the thirty years in which they were Hicks’smost important visual theme, are rich with meaning close to the heart of this devout Quaker.Born April 4, 1780, in Attleborough (now Langhorne), Pennsylvania, Hicks was raised by the David Twining family following the death of his mother. It was throughthe kindness and industriousness of this Quaker family that he first absorbed the religious beliefs that would powerfully influence his life and work. Apprenticed tocoach-makers William and Henry Tomlinson at the age of thirteen, Hicks subsequently used his training to paint not only coaches but also signs, furniture, and other decorated objects. He married Sarah Worstall in 1803, and the couple had five children. While ornamental painting was Hicks’s means of making a living, his truecalling was the Quaker ministry, and he was far better known in his lifetime for this role than for his achievements as an artist.Beginning in 1811 he spoke locally as a minister, and in 1819 he set out from his home in Newtown, Pennsylvania, on the first of several preaching trips. Owing to asplit within the American Society of Friends in 1827, Hicks became a follower of the Hicksite movement led by his cousin, Elias Hicks. This schism in Quakerismdeeply affected the artist. His depictions of animals, based loosely on Isaiah 11:6, “When the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,”lend the creatures of the
Peaceable Kingdoms
alert and often troubled facial expressions. Their agitation and unease are reflective not only of man’s daily struggle toovercome his natural appetites to achieve a higher level of spirituality, but also of the artist’s angst over the philosophical tumult taking place in Quaker theology at thetime.Hicks turned to easel paintings later in life, producing most of these works after 1820. While ornamental painting continued to be his primary source of income, his portrait works appear to have been created for the pleasure and contemplation of family and close friends in Bucks County, where he lived throughout his life. He wasevidently skilled enough to have provided some instruction to his cousin, Thomas Hicks (1823–1890), who became a portrait artist, and to the young Martin JohnsonHeade (1819–1904). Self-taught and never particularly skillful in the depiction of the human figure, Hicks nevertheless had a talent for adopting elements from printsources, reusing them to create compositions with both deep emotional resonance and clever design.In subjects such as
Penn’s Treaty with the Indians
(thirteen versions) or
The Grave of William Penn
(six versions), he begins with printed sources (The Boydell-Hall engraving after Benjamin West in the first instance, and Paul Gauci’s lithograph after Hendrik Frans de Cort in the second), but transforms them through his bold,idiosyncratic vision. His several farm scenes, in contrast, document places he knew well. In works such as the supremely beautiful
Cornell Farm,
painted toward theend of his life, he achieves an orderly composition and light-infused atmosphere that reflect the belief in a serene heaven-on-earth provided by a beneficent being. Hickshimself had tried his hand at agriculture about 1815, believing it a higher calling than that of being an artist, but was ultimately a failure as a farmer.In addition to the subjects noted above, Hicks made images of Niagara Falls, Washington crossing the Delaware, the signing of the Declaration of Independence,and painted a remarkable
Noah’s Ark
. His work is distinctive in its creation of lively patterns, in the sinuous contours of the creatures depicted, and in the harmonious palette of greens, golds, and browns. Often the works are inscribed with large, careful lettering that reflect the artist’s training as a sign painter. Landscapes from thelatter part of Hicks’s career demonstrate an increased ease of his handling of paint, a more highly developed sense of spatial progression, and a softer, more lyricalatmosphere.At first known only locally, Hicks’s work was rediscovered in the 1930s when it was included in important early exhibitions at the Newark Museum (1930–1931)and the Museum of Modern Art (1935 and 1938), and has been widely exhibited ever since.
See also

Furniture, Painted and Decorated; Painting, American Folk; Painting, Landscape; Religious Folk Art; Trade Signs
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Ford, Alice.
Edward Hicks: Painter of the Peaceable Kingdom.
Philadelphia, 1952. ——.
Edward Hicks, His Life and Art.
New York, 1985.Hicks, Edward.
Memoirs of the Life and Religious Labors of E.Hicks.
Philadelphia, 1851.Mather, Eleanor Price, and Dorothy Canning Miller.
Edward Hicks: His Peaceable Kingdoms and Other Paintings.
East Brunswick, N.J., 1983.Weekley, Carolyn.
The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks.
NewYork
,
1999
.