"Our savior has promised, and will fulfill his promise, that "where two or three are gathered together in his name, there will he be in the midst of them." Oh the blessedness of true heavenly devotion! Under the influence of this blessed spirit, my soul feels a sweet union and communion with all God's children in their devotional exercise, whether it is performed in a Protestant meeting house, a Roman Cathedral, a Jewish synagogue, an Hindoo temple, an Indian wigwam, or by the wild Arab of the great desert with his face turned towards Mecca."
- Edward Hicks
Drifting, and scarcely 18 years old, Edward Hicks enrolled himself as a soldier in the militia, drawn by what he described as the fascinating sights and sounds of martial music and regimental splendor. His health and demeanor compromised by revelry in lewd talk, liquor and fast company - it proved a motivation that was short-lived. Hicks returned to the familiar coach making and painting trade, and went into business for himself in 1800. One of his first customers, Dr. Joseph Fenton, a Presbyterian residing in the Pennsylvania North Hampton Township, provided rooming for the young artist, and while there, Edward helped the doctor build a new carriage. That spring, Edward painted the Fenton's house. It was during this period that Hicks began to seriously consider his religious life. His memoirs reflect on his physical and spiritual suffering due to stints of habitual drinking and indulgence in Philadelphia as incentive and reason. It was a time when it may have been difficult to envision this young man as the plain-coated, Quaker minister who would one day become an icon in American cultural history, and whose name would become identified as synonymous with peace.
Edward Hicks had not been born a Quaker - His parents Issac and Catherine Hicks belonged to the Church of England. They were a family of means and advantage, a position swept away in the American Revolution. Born in 1780 in the middle of the war, Edward was left motherless when Catherine Hicks died on the very day the British surrendered at Yorktown. In 1783, Edward's father boarded the young boy in the home of David Twinning, and it was there, under the nurturing guidance of David's wife Elizabeth that Hicks became familiar with the tenets of the Quaker faith.
In 1803, Hicks joined the Society of Friends and the same year married his childhood sweetheart Sarah Worstall. To augment his income he began to paint signboards for shops and taverns. Sometime after taking up residence In Newtown Pennsylvania, Hicks took up easel painting. Borrowing the engraved image of the Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch from the British artist Richard Westall, Edward embarked on a series of metaphorical paintings based on the prophecy of Isaiah that foretold the coming of the Messiah - when "the wolf also shall lie down with the lamb" - a composition that would become Hicks' favorite theme. It is a series of paintings - more than 50 are known - that continued to introduce what we now perceive as iconic images of Americana: vignettes of the Natural Bridge of Virginia, the Delaware Water Gap and Penn's Treaty with the Indians - the treaty image appearing in almost all of the Peaceable Kingdom pictures.
These various pictorial additions reflect the artist's strong individual identification with the young American republic, and a number of these elements found independence in their own representations. Hicks painted with great enthusiasm his Falls of Niagara and the dramatic renderings of George Washington at the Delaware.
But as a Quaker peacemaker and defender of liberty, it is clear that Edward Hicks' greatest hero was William Penn. Penn had suffered a great deal of persecution in England, and responded by granting unprecedented religious and civil liberties to his colonists in North America. Hicks was also becoming sensitive to matters of religious liberty. By the late 1820's, pressures mounting within the Quaker Society of Friends threatened freedom of belief - it was a schism between two ideological factions would result in a formal separation in 1827.
The image of the William Penn signing his historic treaty first appeared in the early Peaceable Kingdom pictures. A small cameo of the scene was included as an icon of the peace achieved as a result of the historic signing. Subsequent images of the treaty signing grew in importance and dimension, and later became the subject of a series of independent easel works executed from the 1830's well into the late 1840's.
Throughout the years Hicks drew on print sources as primary source material and starting points for his painted works, and the imagery of the Penn Treaty signing is one of the strongest examples of his reliance on this aspect of his sign painter's training to complete a work. Inspired by the John Boydell's 1775 print image of the painting by Benjamin West, also a Quaker, Hicks interprets the source image with a loyal, yet inventive artistic freedom.
As independent easel works, Penn's Treaty became a focus at a point in the artist's career where he no longer felt subject to the criticism and scrutiny voiced by the Society of Friends for his fine art painting. Hicks had legitimized his easel work as a way of elevating and expressing his ministry through visual allegory and metaphor. This newfound comfort and freedom are vibrant and palpable when considering the strength of these images. The Penn's Treaty image presented here is a fully realized, mature and developed example - one that appears well into the timeline of the genre. The controlled, almost slavish adherence to the original composition of the print source, has given way to a more solid, graphic image. In contrast to Hicks' earlier attempts to employ the subtle shading and modeling techniques associated with academic oil painting technique to define figures and forms, the artist returns to the bolder, more graphic devices that would have been native to his sign painting craft. Figurative contours and shadows are described with deliberate, bold outlines, using a palette of color that is anything but tentative. When compared to earlier renderings of the subject, Hicks has dispensed with the numerous details that busy the image, for favor of a more solid, graphic presentation of the historic event. The trunks of tribute remain closed and architectural in presentation, and a greater contrast is drawn between the two delegations - Penn and the Quakers display an appropriate calm and solidity, while the native tribe is adorned with vibrant and colorfully beaded and feathered attire with spirited details executed in bold, calligraphic brushstrokes. The background recedes in a cleanly constructed atmospheric perspective that is achieved with deliberately layered, diminishing values of color. In the distance, the familiar pink and blue hues of the artist's favorite sky have been rendered in lyrical strokes of buttery impasto. "Penn's Treaty" is painted in gold on the mahogany frame, and the stylish, curvilinear treatment of the inscription's "Y" is but one more detail suggesting the artist is experiencing a measure of pleasure and freedom in practicing his craft.
With the freedom to paint the Treaty scene, Hicks did so with mixed religious and patriotic fervor. The Quaker minister was teaching the gospel with his paintbrush, and at the same moment drawing on a historical event. Hicks directly connected the peace-making scene with the Isaiah passages depicted in the Kingdom paintings, as if to illustrate the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Scott Webster Nolley
Fine Art Conservation of Virginia