An appreciation for American folk art, a problematic term that refers to art made by untrained, so-called naive artists, burgeoned in the 1920s and 1930s as artists and scholars identified this kind of art as an ancestor of modernist American styles of the period. Foremost among these artists was Edward Hicks, the nineteenth-century Quaker preacher and coach and sign painter, whose fascination with the religious theme of the peaceable kingdom from 1826 to 1849 constitutes one of the most popular and complex stories in American art.
Given his strong sense of duty to his religion, which considered painting suspect, Hicks concentrated on painting subjects of direct relevance to his religion and politics, specifically, the theme of the peaceable kingdom. The concept of a peaceable kingdom derives from the prophecy of Isaiah (Is. 11:6-8), who foretold a time in which peace, wisdom, and understanding between peoples would reign supreme. Hicks’s versions of the theme include a child, a wolf and lamb, a leopard and kid, a calf (or oxen) and lion, as well as, as in the Bayou Bend version, an image of the Delaware Water Gap with a sailing vessel in the distance and the Quaker William Penn signing a treaty with the Indians. Hicks saw this historical “event" as the partial fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in which Quakers established a peaceable kingdom on earth.
The earliest date for a firmly documented version of a Peaceable Kingdom is 1826 (PMA). The various Peaceable Kingdoms, numbering over sixty, have been classified according to four types. The earliest group is composed of the Peaceable Kingdoms “of the branch” (ca. 1825/ 26-30), showing a child with a grapevine, a reference to wine and, by extension, the blood of Christ as a symbol of atonement. Hicks borrowed this figure from the popular illustrated version of the Bible, available in Philadelphia after 1815, by British artist and Royal Academy member Richard Westall (1765-1836). By appropriating Westall’s image, Hicks invested high art with local meaning.
The Bayou Bend painting is of the second type (see Related examples), executed between 1826 and 1830, which included rhymed borders combining the events of Isaiah with those of Penn’s treaty. The third group includes Quakers bearing banners (ca. 1827-35), followed by Peaceable Kingdoms in which the centrality of the child is replaced by the animals mentioned in Isaiah, specifically the ox and the lion.
The second type is especially provocative. As Hicks scholar David Tatham points out, the rhyming couplets that appear on the second type are “a product of partisan calculation rather than naivete” because they do not treat the Scriptures as Holy Writ, as Orthodox Quakers upheld. In fact, Hicks’s treatment of the peaceable kingdom theme during these years suggests his support of the Hicksite cause over that of Orthodox Quakers. The Peaceable Kingdoms that include the couplets, then, should be seen as an expression of strong political and religious beliefs and, in the context of the period, a form of Hicksite propaganda.
RELATED EXAMPLES: There are six other known versions of this theme with rhymed borders: Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; PMA; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Virginia; New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York; and two in private collections.
Book excerpt: Warren, David B., Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.
Cataloguing data may change with further research.
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Edward Hicks, American, 1780–1849
- c. 1826–1828
- Oil on canvas
- Canvas: 32 3/8 × 42 3/8 in. (82.3 × 107.7 cm)
- Credit Line
The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg
- Current Location
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
- Accession Number
A friend of the artist, Amos Campbell, Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania; to his great-granddaughter, Mrs. Henrietta C. Collins, Haddonfield, New Jersey; possibly to Robert Carlen, Philadelphia; to Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York; to Miss Hogg, in 1954.