The image of the Peaceable Kingdom is one of the most recognized and enduring in the history of American Folk Art. In the more than sixty painted versions of the Peaceable Kingdom that survive by his hand, Hicks presents parables of the animal kingdom inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; 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.
The suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cocatrice' den.
Through his personifications of the animal kingdom, vignettes of historical events, and popular emblematic references, Hicks portrays his own ideal world. A devout Quaker minister, he portrayed a world characterized by the harmonic co-existence of men with diverse religious and secular priorities. He first supported his family with a coach and sign-painting business and later turned to painting Peaceable Kingdoms as a means of representing a major tenet of his Hicksite Quaker theology, that of the attainment of salvation through the "Inner Light." (For a short biography of Hicks see text preceeding lot 135).
Originally inspired by a design of a child with a grapevine by Richard Westall, R.A. (1765-1836), which appeared in engravings in American Bibles and Books of Common Prayer around 1820. Hicks developed his Peaceable Kingdoms. Today viewed in several periods, the series shows that he gradually populated them with more animals, changing iconography, and various salient events within the Quaker community. The earliest versions are known as "Peaceable Kingdoms of the Branch" where the child is the central character. They date from approximately 1825-30. The illusion to a Christ-like child however, was contrary to Hicks' own interpretation of doctrine and was later replaced with animals (see Miller and Mather, Edward Hicks: His Peaceable Kingdoms and Other Paintings (New Brunswick, 1983), p.94-106). The next chronological group is often referred to as "Peaceable Kingdoms with the Quakers Bearing Banners," and includes those works from approximately 1827-1835 that reflect Hicks' frustration with the growing schism in his religious community between advocates of Hicksite and Orthodox Quakerism. A mountain of Quakers with didactic banners appear in the background and the animals often have dismayed expressions (for a discussion of this phase see Miller and Mather, pp.36-42 and illustrations, pp.107-115). The next stage is that known as the "Middle Kingdoms" or "Kingdoms with Seated Lions," in which the Lion becomes dominant, and the composition becomes more complex while increaingly integrated (Miller and Mather, pp.122-138). Last, are the "Late Kingdoms," painted during the last decade of his life, which are replete with characters, and with animals who appear to be reconciled with one another (Miller and Mather, pp.138-144).
This painting fits into the middle period of Peceable Kingdoms painted by Hicks. It is a full and optimistic rendering of the prophecy. The most prominent animals in the composition are the otherwise fierce lion and docile ox. Here, they stand together sharing straw. They are surrounded by other pairs of animals such as the leopard and kid, the wolf and lamb, the bear and cow, all devoid of the expected animosity.
The idyllic charm of youth is also presented by Hicks in this painting in the guise of the "weaned" and the "suckling" children, as well as the child who leads the whole procession, and stands by the lion with an olive branch. Hicks was concerned with the plight of youth and his Memoir is filled with instructional advice for their religious tutoring (Memoirs of the Life and Religious Labors of Edward Hicks, Late of Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania: Written by Himself [Philadelphia, 1851]).
Popular and Quaker representations of peace include the classical figure of liberty at the lower left and the vignette of William Penn and his Treaty with the Indians at the upper left. Penn was particularly significant for the Quakers as both a peacemaker and defender of civil and religious liberties. Hicks had used the vignette before in earlier Kingdoms and had also painted an entire series of full-scale images from around 1825 to 1847 (see Mather and Miller, pp.171-183).
An untrained artist, Hicks adopted throughout his life many other engraved images from newspapers and published prints for his animals and figures as he did with the Westall print for his first group of Kingdoms. This is especially true for non-domesticated animals which he would not have had the opportunity to study. The bear at the upper right is thought to be derived from a print of Peter Barlay's Tales of Animals (fig.2) and the small lion may have been derived from a print of Baron Cuvier's Cubs Bred Between a Lion and a Tigress: Three Months Old (see Ford, p.179 & 143). The figure of Liberty was certainly derived from her classical image that adorned coins, medals and all manner of official paper (see Ford, p.146-7, and fig.4) Furthermore, several scholars have correlated the background of Asher B. Durand's Delaware Water Gap with the far backdrop of many of the Kingdoms, a relationship that one can surely see in this painting (see Mather and Miller, p.64, and fig.1).
Drawing from the gamut of biblical, historical, and contemporary themes and engraved sources, and completed with the greatest vibrancy, precision, and artistry when Hicks was at a zenith of his artistic powers, this example of the Peceable Kingdom is a universal work and a timeless masterpiece of American Folk Art.