Sallie Glover, specialist in American Folk Art, with Landscape with a Stream by folk painter Edward Hicks

5 minutes with… Landscape with a Stream by Edward Hicks

American Folk Art specialist Sallie Glover explains why this small landscape painting by Edward Hicks — offered in New York, 17-18 January — gives us rare insight into the life of an artist who largely adhered to biblical and political scenes

‘It’s unlike anything we’ve seen by him before,’ says Sallie Glover, referring to the quiet pastoral scene in front of her. In all probability, the setting is Langhorne in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the folk painter Edward Hicks (1780-1849) grew up. 

‘He was a complex character who was very conflicted by his creativity,’ says the specialist of the Quaker-born preacher and artist. To paint was to go against his religious beliefs, so Hicks reconciled his artistic urges by focusing only on biblical scenes or pictures with a political message.

His most famous works are a series of 62 paintings known as The Peaceable Kingdom, depicting animals existing in harmony, inspired by a passage in the book of Isaiah, which are now held in public museums including The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. ‘He also made a series of paintings about Penn’s Treaty, commemorating the peace agreement between the Quaker settlers and the Native American Lenape people,’ says Glover.

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Landscape with a Stream, painted sometime around 1846, does not depict a bible story or make a political point, and that is the beauty of it. ‘It is the closest we get to a personal painting by him,’ says Glover. 

‘On the back of the frame is a handwritten label which reads Edw. Hicks to his beloved/ friend Mary Roberts sendeth/ Greeting.  Hicks never signed his pictures, so this documentation is rare.’

Edward Hicks, Landscape with a Stream, circa 1846. Oil on board. 8 x 10 in. Sold for $43,750 on 17-18 January 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Edward Hicks, Landscape with a Stream, circa 1846. Oil on board. 8 x 10 in. Sold for $43,750 on 17-18 January 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Mary Roberts, it seems, was a relative of the coachmakers William and Henry Tomlinson, to whom Hicks was apprenticed at the age of 13. ‘What makes this image unique,’ explains Glover, ‘is that it is a window into his personal life — with no political or spiritual undertones.

‘Unlike his other works it is not calculated, and there’s no symbolism or grand world view,’ she continues. ‘This is something personal and intimate, made for someone he loved.’

When Mary Roberts’ descendants sold the painting, the new owner, recognising its value, kept the picture in a closet. It was only removed when the specialist came to see it. ‘As a result, it is in excellent condition,’ says Glover. ‘We think it might even have the original frame.’