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The Peaceable Kingdom
The Peaceable Kingdom, 1826
Edward Hicks, American
Oil on canvas
32 7/8 x 41 3/4 inches (83.5 x 106 cm)
Bequest of Charles C. Willis, 1956
1956-59-1
[ More Details ]

About This Painting

Gentle animals gather around a barefoot young child in this wooded landscape. Behind them, a large ship floats in a tranquil river. On the grassy riverbank, a group of people meets under a branch of an elm tree. Look closely at their clothing and you’ll notice that the men on the right are British colonists and the men on the left are American Indians. What could they be discussing?

Both of these scenes tell stories of peace. The child and animals in the foreground illustrate a passage from the Bible. In this story, the prophet Isaiah predicts that one day all of the world’s creatures will live peacefully together:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain. (Isaiah 11:6–9, King James Version)

To describe Isaiah’s vision, Edward Hicks painted the animals described in the text. Both predator and prey exist peacefully together. The gray wolf rests beside a small lamb. A leopard lays his head between his two muscular front legs, showing no aggression toward the goat beside him. The lion nuzzles his head against the child.

The colonists and American Indians in the background of the painting tell a parallel story of peace from Philadelphia history. Here William Penn (1644–1718), the English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania, meets peacefully with American Indians. A legend tells that Penn signed a treaty of friendship with leaders of the Lenni Lenape tribe (“LEN-nee Luh-NAH-pay,” also known as the Delaware Indians) in 1682, under the shade of an elm tree. The story holds that Penn proclaimed:

We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love.

William Penn and the Lenni Lenape tribe agreed to coexist peacefully. Hicks, a fellow Quaker, painted this picture almost one hundred and fifty years after the event occurred. However, the story of the harmonious relationship between Penn and the tribe continued to inspire him.

Hicks linked the stories together with words in the decorative border around the painting. Three of the sides paraphrase the Bible verse and the fourth refers to the treaty. Hicks wanted to show that peace could be achieved, even in a world filled with conflict. By reminding viewers of Isaiah’s vision and the treaty between William Penn and the Lenni Lenape, Hicks implied that all adversaries can find reconciliation.

About This Artist

A native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Edward Hicks (1780–1849) learned to paint as an adolescent when he was apprenticed to a coach maker. In 1803, he married Sarah Worstall, with whom he had three children. Hicks supported the family through his business painting signs, coaches, houses, and furniture.

Edward Hicks was born and lived all of his life in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, right outside Philadelphia. This map also shows other counties near Philadelphia.

In the early 1800s, Hicks became a minister with the Religious Society of Friends, a prominent group in Philadelphia’s early history whose presence remains strong today. During Hicks’s lifetime, many members of this Christian denomination, known as Friends or Quakers, believed in living a simple life and considered ornamental painting to be inappropriate. This religious belief presented a problem for Hicks, whose livelihood depended on decorative painting. As a solution, he focused on painting signs for shops and other buildings. Hicks thought this kind of painting was acceptable because it served a function and featured rather plain decoration.

Hicks also continued to paint canvases with religious themes such as The Peaceable Kingdom, which reflected his spiritual devotion. As a Quaker, he believed in promoting peace throughout the world and therefore felt a special connection to the Biblical prophet Isaiah’s vision of peace and William Penn’s treaty with the Lenni Lenape. Hicks painted over sixty paintings with this theme of a “peaceable kingdom.” He felt it was wrong to earn money by selling these pictures, so he gave them away as gifts to friends and family members. These paintings continue to represent an enduring hope for peace today.

Same Stories, Different Artists

William Penn's Treaty with the Indians
William Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1775
John Hall, British
Engraving
Image: 24 7/16 x 19 1/16 inches (62.1 x 48.4 cm)
Gift of Henry Goddard Leach, 1939
1939-34-1
[ More Details ]
The stories of William Penn’s treaty and Isaiah’s prophecy inspired artists before and after Hicks painted The Peaceable Kingdom. Benjamin West, an American-born artist who lived most of his life in London, depicted the signing of the treaty in a large painting in 1771. West’s image became well-known through widely distributed printed reproductions. Hicks based his figures of Penn and the Lenni Lenape on a print of West’s painting, similar to John Hall's engraving seen here. What similarities and differences can you find between the print and Hicks’s painting?

Over a hundred years after Hicks painted The Peaceable Kingdom, Horace Pippin, an African American artist from West Chester, Pennsylvania, created several pictures about Isaiah’s prophecy, including Holy Mountain III (use Google image searches or ARTstor* to view this painting). Similar to Hicks, Pippin painted a peaceful scene of animals and humans in the foreground. However, the background features violent images, such as a figure hanging by his neck, airplanes dropping bombs and crosses marking gravestones, and military figures and a tank. These images speak to Pippin’s experience as a soldier in World War I (1914–18) and to the extreme racial violence against African Americans in the United States at that time. How else are Pippin’s and Hicks’s paintings similar and different?

*ARTstor is an online image database with high-resolution images of works of art. Educators may register for a free subscription at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Wachovia Education Resource Center.

This object is included in Pennsylvania Art: From Colony to Nation, a set of teaching posters and resource book produced by the Division of Education and generously supported by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, Inc.

 

For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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