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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Edward Hicks

Painters with little or no formal training in art are often referred to as "naive" or "folk" artists and the tradition goes way back  to the very beginnings of art in this country. Perhaps one of the most well known is Edward Hicks. Born about 1780, he was a Quaker minister and sign painter in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His skill as a sign painter can be seen in his early work including a charming, 1825 landscape of Niagara Falls with inscriptions, not from the Bible, but from a poem entitled Descriptive of a Pedestrian Journey to the Falls of Niagara by Alexander Wilson, framing it on all four sides.

Peaceable  Kingdom, 1834, Edward Hicks
The Quaker influences in his art however can be see in his most famous work, Peaceable Kingdom painted about 1834.  In it he depicts not one but two peaceable kingdoms.  In the foreground an idealized menagerie of predatory animals coexisting, indeed, posing, with cattle, lambs, children and other more passive beasts. It would appear that some of them he was only passively familiar. In any case, the  scene is based upon Isaiah 11:6 which foretells of a coming peace on earth wherein "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down the the kid..."   
The second peaceable kingdom is a much more earthly one, based upon Benjamin West's painting, Penn's Treaty with the Indians. Placed off to the left in the composition, in a distant middle ground, the comparison between the two "kingdoms" is hardly subtle. A great admirer of Penn, Hicks saw in him one who tried to bring about the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.  Interestingly enough, Hicks, for all his idealism, was not above making a tidy living from his art. Of this one work, the exact number of variations he painted is unknown, but sixty are known to survive.
Penn's Treaty with the Indians,
1847, Edward Hicks
William Penn's Treaty with the Indians,
1771, Benjamin West

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