Edward Hicks

(American, 1780 - 1849)

Edward Hicks, the Quaker minister and painter, was the son of Isaac and Catherine Hicks and the grandson of Gilbert Hicks of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.¹ The Hicks family was wealthy, owned considerable land, and operated several businesses in the area. Both Gilbert and Isaac held local posts associated with the colonial British government. In l776, Gilbert was regarded as a traitor to American concerns and he fled Pennsylvania. Hicks’s family lands were then confiscated and the artist’s parents lived in reduced circumstances thereafter. Hicks’s mother died when he was almost two years old. Unable to care for all of his five young children, his father boarded most of them with Bucks County families. In l785, Hicks went to live with the Quakers David and Elizabeth Twining on their farm near Newtown. Ten years later, the youngest Hicks child was apprenticed to the coach makers William and Henry Tomlinson in nearby Langhorne. It was during his five-year apprenticeship that Edward learned a variety of techniques associated with ornamental painting, an important branch of the coach and carriage making business. Edward was not a birthright Quaker, nor was he a Friend when he served his apprenticeship and learned his trade. His immediate family was Anglican. After the death of his mother, his father sometimes attended the Newtown Presbyterian Church. Neither of these religious affiliations would have discouraged Hicks’s pursuit of painting as a career, including his eventual easel pictures of local farms, historical subjects, and pastoral scenes. Some conservative Quakers, including those living in rural Bucks County, considered such artwork to be frivolous, of no use, and contrary to Quaker codes of plainness and simplicity. By l803, however, Hicks had become deeply interested in the Society of Friends, had married Sarah Worstall, a member of Middletown Monthly Meeting, and had been received into membership at the same meeting. His increasing work for the Friends became the most important aspect of his life. In l811, Middletown Monthly Meeting recorded Hicks as a Quaker minister. Ultimately it was the profound influence of his religious life and his response to criticism that led him to create the Peaceable Kingdom pictures for which he is so widely known today. Decorative painting of the type he performed in his shop, especially some of the elaborate signboards, quickly came under the scrutiny of local conservative Quakers. Such work was considered questionable in its highly decorative aspects and often discouraged by Quakers, but it was considered particularly inappropriate for a Quaker minister to produce such items. Hicks recognized this conflict but realized that ornamental painting, the only trade that he knew, made it possible to support his family and the costs of his extended, traveling ministry. His creation of the first Peaceable Kingdom pictures in about 1816-18 may have been his contrived effort to allay criticism and provide an image that was consistent with Quaker beliefs. The earliest of the Kingdom pictures were likely less refined and organized than the more sophisticated versions that followed. Only one example dating before l820 is known: an oil on canvas picture owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art. About l822, or perhaps a year or so before, Hicks began to develop the well-known “border” Kingdoms. These versions, with the exception of one, have lettered (and sometimes rhyming) verses in borders surrounding the Kingdom view. The lettered messages convey the Biblical prophecy of Isaiah that inspired the pictures. Several of the border Kingdoms survive, and none are identical. Hicks would eventually develop other formats for the Kingdoms as he aged and as he used them to convey particular meanings about the welfare of the American Society of Friends. He never tired of altering the scene and of combining and recombining animals in various ways to illustrate certain ideas. At the time of his death in 1849 he was working on a Peaceable Kingdom picture for his daughter. One account indicates that Hicks was working on the picture the day before he died. Note 1. Information in this entry was taken from Carolyn J. Weekley, The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999).