Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Langhorne, Bucks County
Painter and Quaker minister Edward Hicks is best known for The Peaceable Kingdom.
Edward Hicks was born in Bucks County in 1780 and apprenticed to two coachmakers when he was thirteen years old. After several wild years, he became a Quaker and was eventually honored as a Quaker preacher. Hicks supported his family and his preaching by painting. His folk art features multiple representations of a similar scene, with some changes in the composition. His most famous work — and a good example of his style — is his series of “Peaceable Kingdom” paintings. Hicks continued to paint until his death in 1849.
Edward Hicks was born on April 4, 1780 into luxury, but was soon snatched from it. His family was wealthy and socially prominent; in fact, his grandfather was the chief justice of Bucks County. But this wealth and social stature existed when the colonies were still British. As the American Revolution continued, the Hicks family lost its social and financial stature. Edward Hicks’ father and grandfather went into hiding and when Edward was eighteen months old, his mother died, leaving him alone in a land of turmoil.
Luckily for Hicks (and fans of early 19th century American painting), a friend of his mother’s took him in. Elizabeth Twining raised Hicks and helped imbue him with the religious values he would eventually internalize, work with as a preacher and illustrate in his paintings. But first, Hicks had some youthful rebellion to get out of his system.
When he was thirteen years old, Hicks was apprenticed to two coachmakers, William and Henry Tomlinson. During this time, Hicks lived in Langhorne, away from Elizabeth Twining’s matronly and moral care. Besides learning a trade, Hicks also got involved in some licentious habits — spinning frolics, dice games and visiting taverns. On one trip to Philadelphia, near the end of his seven-year apprenticeship, he was taken with a severe illness during a “holiday spree.” So overcome was Hicks by this experience that he vowed to repent and change his sinful ways. This feeling did not even last the trip. Before he had left Philadelphia for home, he had already reverted back to a singing, dancing, frolicking partier.
After his apprenticeship with the Tomlinsons ended in 1800, Hicks worked for the brothers for four months, after which he went into business for himself. One of his earliest customers was Dr. Joseph Fenton. Hicks roomed with the Fenton family, and while there, he helped Dr. Fenton build a new carriage and paint his house. While living with the Fentons, Hicks continued his sinful frolicking, but his mind began to wander from earthly pleasures toward divine righteousness. He began to walk by himself, and started going to the Middletown Friends Meeting. Hicks made friends among the Friends, notably John Comly. In 1801, he entered into a business arrangement with the Quaker Joshua C. Canby, painting coaches and other vehicles, and attending Quaker meetings every Thursday. In 1803, Hicks applied for membership to a Quaker group in Middletown and was accepted. That same year, he married childhood sweetheart Sarah Worstall. The couple rented a room in Milford and began their life together.
In 1805, the Hicks’ first child, Mary was born. That same year, Hicks borrowed money to buy land and build a house for his family. In 1808, property taxes rose, leaving Hicks in financial straits. By 1810, he had sold his house and moved to Newtown, putting the family closer to Sarah’s parents and his own father and sister. At the same time, Hicks became more involved in the Quaker ministry. A year earlier, he had been appointed by the Middletown group to serve testimonies for friends. Hicks belonged to a debating society and attended various Quaker meetings, including a yearly meeting in Philadelphia and weekly meetings in Makefield. He served on a temperance committee for one Quaker meeting, denouncing any Friends who used liquor. Hicks gave successful speeches in Maryland and Delaware, and in 1811, he was recommended and approved as a Quaker minister.
Being a Quaker minister took a toll on Hicks and his family. Hicks’ travels took him away from his family for long periods of time and they took him away from his work. Because Quaker ministers were not paid, this presented a problem. By 1815, Hicks was in debt. Trouble came from another front — the Quakers themselves. Criticized for his ornamental style of painting, Hicks decided to change occupations. He became a farmer, a job for which, by his own admittance, he had no training. He failed miserably, ending up deeper in debt.
Friends helped Hicks out of debt, and he resumed his painting and ministry. By 1819, he was able to go on a four-month ministry sojourn, traveling through parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Canada and New Jersey. During this trip, he saw Niagara Falls, which would become the subject of some of his paintings. But it would be another scene that inspired Hicks to create his most famous series of paintings.
As a Quaker, Hicks’ artistic profession was on the edge of acceptable vocations. It was all right for Hicks to put his talents to use on wagons, signs and other utilitarian jobs, but to become too ornamental was forbidden among the Friends. Around 1820, though, Hicks saw something that may have shown him a way to compromise. Richard Westall, a British artist, had created an engraving depicting a passage from the Bible, Isaiah 11:6. The passage reads “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lay down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together: and a little child shall lead them.” Hicks used Westall’s engraving as a model for his first painting in the Peaceable Kingdom series.
The Peaceable Kingdom, Hicks wrote in his memoirs is “a kingdom that is not of this world — a kingdom whose subjects never can fight with carnal weapons; a kingdom that is set up in every immortal soul where Christ the Saviour is permitted to enter as a quickening spirit, and rule and reign triumphant…”
During his life, Hicks would continue to paint Peaceable Kingdom scenes, each one slightly different from the other iterations. This first scene was one of his simplest, containing only a child and six animals. The figures are in the right foreground of the painting, in front of an idyllic pastoral landscape. Later paintings change the number of animals, add children, change the position of the animals and change the background and frame. More than 60 different Peaceable Kingdom paintings still exist today.
Hicks created other paintings, many of which feature similar representations, like animals and outdoor landscapes. Several of his works were also variations on a theme. He created several paintings depicting George Washington at the Christmas Eve, 1776, crossing of the Delaware River, and several depictions of Penn’s Treaty with the Lenape Indians and of Penn’s gravesite, and different paintings containing farms and farm animals. One of Hicks’ later paintings of renown is of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark — another example of his use of animals in his work.
Frederic Price lauded Hicks for his simple, clean style, which he thought reflected the young nation Hicks was a part of. Price wrote that “Paintings, like books, need no critics. Time has spoken of these authentic documents of our country when it was young and grand. [Hicks’] note was original American. … Just as he had painted coaches attractive, clean, bright, so in his canvases he combined pure color and design.”
By 1848, Hicks knew he was reaching the end of his life. He gave up his ministerial travels, focusing on painting for the God he so loved. Hicks continued painting for the rest of his life, stopping only the day before he died. By one account, three thousand people attended his funeral.
Earliest Known Peaceable Kingdom (ca. 1820; The Cleveland Museum of Art)
Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch (1822-1825; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.)
The Falls of Niagara (1825; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)
Penn’s Treaty (1830-1835; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va.)
Washington at the Delaware (ca. 1837-1840; Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, Pa.)
The Declaration of Independence (1840-1844; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.)
The Residence of David Twining (1845-1846; Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Noah’s Ark (1846; Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Indians Shooting Jaguar in a Tree (1846-1847; Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vt.)
The Grave of William Penn (1847; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va.)
Cornell Farm (1848; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)
Leedom Farm (1849; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va.)
Ford, Alice. Edward Hicks, His Life and Art. New York City: Abbeville Press, Inc., 1985.
Hicks, Edward. A Peaceable Season. Princeton, NJ: The Pyne Press, 1973.
Mather, Eleanore Price. Edward Hicks, His Peaceable Kingdoms and Other Paintings. East Brunswick, NJ: Cornwall Books and Associated University Presses, Inc., 1983.
Price, Frederic Newlin. Edward Hicks 1780-1849. Swarthmore, PA: The Benjamin West Society, 1945.
Weekly, Carolyn J. The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks. New York City: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999.
For More Information:
To view some of Hicks’ artwork, click on the following links: