…[the leopard] springs to a gorgeous prime…
- Eleanore Price Mather, introduction, Edward Hicks: A Gentle Spirit (New York, 1975), n.p.
Majestic in its composition and execution, this Peaceable Kingdom reveals the mastery and confidence of Edward Hicks working at the peak of his career. One of the artist’s so-called “Late Kingdoms” that illustrate the culmination of years of experimentation, this Kingdom stands as one of the most successful examples of his famous subject, a view that evidence indicates was shared by the artist himself. The painting offered here differs only in minor details to an example now at Colonial Williamsburg (fig. 1), a work described by Hicks as “one of the best I ever done” (Letter, Edward Hicks to Joseph Watson, September 23, 1844, Colonial Williamsburg, acc. no. 1961.1400.1).
A triumvirate of grace, poise and aggression, the primary figures of the ox, lion and leopard are carefully placed in a triangular composition that enhances the dramatic impact of the scene. Variously described as “risen” or “arching,” the distinctive pose of the primary leopard has long received particular praise in the scholarship of Hicks. In her discussion of the work offered here, Hicks scholar Eleanore Price Mather notes that in contrast to the renditions of leopards in the Middle Kingdoms, the animal “springs to a gorgeous prime in the Leonardo Beans canvas, where an arching leopard snarls above his recumbent mate” (Eleanore Price Mather, introduction, Edward Hicks: A Gentle Spirit (New York, 1975), n.p.). Whereas Carolyn Weekley observes, “The arched leopard provided a heightened sense of drama and tension that was new and is rarely observed in these pictures” (Carolyn J. Weekley, The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks (Williamsburg, 1999), p. 151); see also Alice Ford, Edward Hicks: His Life and Art (New York, 1985), pp. 176-179). Hicks introduced this pose in the 1844 Kingdom in fig. 1 and it features in only four other examples with the Kingdom offered here the only of these in private hands; besides the work in fig. 1, the others are in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museum San Francisco and the Denver Art Museum. The Dallas example is of similar size and closely related in composition to those offered here and illustrated in fig. 1, whereas the latter two show an increasing relaxation of the tight, triangular composition. Such a progression suggests an approximate order in which these five works were executed within a three-year timespan. As dated by Carolyn Weekley, the group begins with the 1844 work at Williamsburg, followed by the example offered here and that at the Dallas Museum within the ensuing two years, followed by the San Francisco work and ending with the Denver example, which is inscribed “Painted by Edward Hicks in his 67th year,” indicating a date of 1847 (Weekley, pp. 201-202, 204, nos. 47, 49, 51, 59).
Hicks’ 1844 letter to Joseph Watson, who commissioned the work in fig. 1, reveals considerable information relevant to the work offered here. Dated September 23, 1844, the letter reads:
Newtown 2nd morn, 9 moth 23rd 1844
I send thee by my son one of the best paintings
I ever done (& it my be the last) The price as agreed upon
is twenty dollars with the additional sum of one dollar
75 cents which I give Edward Trego for the fraim I thought
it a greatele cheaper than thee would be likely to get a fraim
with ten coats of varnish any where else --- Thee can pay the
money to Isaac who can give thee a receipt if necessary
but I have no account against thee --- With gratitude &
thankfulness for thy kind patronage of the poor painter &
a greatful rememberence of many favours from thy kind
parents --- I bid the dear child & affectionate farewell
Virtually identical in composition and with a canvas of the same size as the work discussed by Hicks above, the Kingdom offered here probably also cost $20. It probably originally had a similar walnut frame. Hicks reveals that the frame for the work in fig. 1 was made by Edward Trego (1812-1886), a Newtown cabinetmaker, had ten coats of varnish and cost $1.75.
Like Joseph Watson, the first owner of the work offered here may well have been a family friend of the artist. The earliest known owners of this work were John Albert Harney (1913-1990) and his wife, Lillian Marion Lang (1911-2005), of Trenton, New Jersey. Both were children of Hungarian immigrants and grew up within twenty-five miles of Newtown, Pennsylvania where Hicks lived most of his life. In 1936, John and Lillian married and four years later are recorded as living in the household of Lillian’s mother at 252 Bellevue Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey. John was an avid collector of Washingtonia and Lillian or perhaps both were collectors/dealers of Hicks works. In addition to the example offered here, Lillian owned Hicks’ James Cornell’s Prize Bull which she sold to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection at Colonial Williamsburg (acc. no. 1958.101.11,A). Furthermore, John is listed as the owner of View of Trenton by Hicks’ cousin, Thomas Hicks (Letha Clair Robertson, “The Art of Thomas Hicks and Celebrity Culture in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York” (PhD. Dissertation, University of Kansas, 2010), p. 248, no. 93).
The Harneys were good friends with Leonardo List Beans (1904-1979), who obtained this Kingdom from them prior to December 1948 when he sent a photograph of the work to the Frick Art Reference Library. Hailing from Newtown, where he grew up “a five minute walk from Edward Hicks’ workshop,” Beans moved to Trenton in 1928. There, he ran an antiques shop with a focus on Washington material and works by Hicks. In addition to the work offered here, he owned at least six other Hicks paintings including one of Washington at the Delaware, which he later gave or sold to the Harneys (see Mather and Miller, pp. 156, 158, 168, 170, 193, 207, nos. 61, 65, 78, 80, 104, 118). The painting was most likely the “Peaceable Kingdom” featured in an exhibition of Beans’ collection in August-December 1949 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Hicks’ death and the 150th anniversary of Washington’s death and was illustrated in Beans’ 1951 publication on Hicks, one of the earliest dedicated studies of artist (“Collection of Art to Be Exhibited,” Trenton Evening Times, 17 August 1949, p. 26; see Literature above; for more on Beans and the Harneys, see Eugenia Cook, “Newtown artist’s work brings $270,000,” Trenton Evening Times, 22 November 1980, pp. 1, 20).