Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks (c.1836)

Sometimes artists paint a number of versions of a work of art and I often wonder the reason for this.  Are they dissatisfied with their original work or are they just fascinated with the subject of the painting and they wish to add some symbolic aspect so as to give a meaning, whether obvious or hidden that they had not considered when painting the original?

The artist featured in My Daily Art Display today painted over sixty versions of a picture.  I wonder why he dedicated almost thirty years of his life on this one theme, continually churning out revised versions.  The featured artist today is the American Folk painter, Edward Hicks.  Hicks was born in Attelboro, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1780.  He was brought up in his grandfather’s mansion.  His father, Isaac was a Loyalist, an American Colonist, who sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783. Edward Hicks’ mother died when he was only a year and a half old and he was brought up by Elizabeth Twining, a friend of his late mother.  She was a Quaker and brought up Edward in that faith and it was to have a great effect on him for the rest of his life.

When he was thirteen years of age Hicks was apprenticed to coach maker William and Henry Tomlinson with whom he learnt the art of coach painting.  When he was twenty he set himself up in his own business as a house and coach painter.  At that time he had not fully taken on board the Quaker religion or their ways and was just a happy-go-lucky young man.  Later in life he was to look back on those days with some self-reproof, writing:

“…in my own estimation a weak, wayward young man … exceedingly fond of singing, dancing, vain amusements, and the company of young people, and too often profanely swearing”…”

Hicks decided to renew his interest in the Quaker faith and in 1803, the twenty-three year old, became a member of the Society of Friends.  It was in that same year that he met and married a Quaker woman, Sarah Worstall.  In 1812 he became a Quaker minister and the following year travelled around the state preaching the Quaker faith.  At the same time as his preaching tours, he had to keep money flowing into his household so he carried on his painting career, concentrating on farm and household items as well as tavern signs.  His business was quite profitable but it was that very fact that to some of his fellow Quakers, fell foul of the Quaker principles.  For a time he gave up his painting and tried to follow the Quaker traditions of farming but he lacked experience and was soon losing money.   His commissions for house and equipment painting was also starting to dry up and financial disaster stared Hicks in the face.  He was also now a father of five young children who had to be fed.

A life-line was thrown to him when somebody suggested that he should become a Quaker artist and by his works of art, spread the “word”.  It was at this time, in 1820, that Edward Hicks made the first of his paintings entitled The Peaceful Kingdom which he revised many times.   Today’s painting for My Daily Art Display’s features the 1833 version of the painting which is hanging in the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.  This painting was not looked upon as a religious painting but in some ways illustrates the Quaker principles.  The subject of the painting was taken from the Old Testament, Book of Isaiah 11: 6-8

The wolf will live with the lamb,
   the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
   and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
   their young will lie down together,
   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
   the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

There is a peaceful interaction between the domestic and wild animals, which in real life would be the “predator and prey”.  We see the lion happily eating straw with the bull.  We see a black bear sharing its food with an ox.  We see a lamb and a wolf lying contentedly, side by side.   We observe humans and animals interfacing peacefully which in some ways suggests an impression of unity.  A child has her arm wrapped round the neck of a tiger, whilst another strokes the nose of a leopard.  In the background, to the left, we see a group of people.  In this later version of the painting we see a ravine dividing these characters in the middle ground from the animals in the foreground.  

William Penn and the Peace Treaty

In the middle ground these are settlers symbolizing the founders of American Quaker movement, led by William Penn, and native Indians who are signing a treaty, which would allow both groups to live in peace and harmony.   Theirs would be a Peaceable Kingdom.  Harmonious living was tantamount in the teaching of the Quakers.  They believed that barriers should be removed that prevented people working and living together in peace.  It is all about living peacefully together and by doing so having a happy and fruitful life.

There is warmth to this picture in the way Hicks uses his colours.  The scene is lit up by the sunlight streaming down the valley.  There is a great depth to the painting with the animals in the foreground the people in the middle ground and the sunlit river running through the deep-sided valley in the background.

Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch by Edward Hicks (c.1826)

In the1826 version (above)  entitled Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch the words of Isaiah were lettered on the false frame of the picture which surrounds the painting.

In later versions Hicks’ technique became more adept.  The figures depicted were spread more and lessened in number.  The animals seemed to become more restless and showed a greater ferocity and there were signs of a split between the predators and their prey.  They looked older with greying whiskers and sunken eyes.  It could well have come about as a result of Hicks’ uneasiness with Quakerism.