Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, photos: John Hazeltine
The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks
23 September - 31 December 2000
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 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. And the suckling child shall play in the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the cockatrice's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11: 6-9
The vibrant paintings of Edward Hicks, considered by many art historians to be America's greatest and most influential folk artist, go on display in the first exhibition to explore the life and work of this enigmatic early 19th-century master. The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks is one of the last major exhibitions that will be on view at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum before it closes to the public on 31 December 2000. The museum will reopen in 2005 in a new state-of-the-art facility in the same location in Golden Gate Park. (left: Edward Hicks (American, 17801849), The Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1846, Oil on canvas, 25 x 28 1/2 inches, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Approximately 75 of Hicks's best-known works will be on view, including numerous variations on his most famous subject, The PeaceabIe Kingdom, over 60 of which were painted by this Quaker minister during his lifetime. Also included in the exhibition are artifacts and objects used by Hicks, as well as examples of his early work as a sign and coach painter in rural Pennsylvania.
Edward Hicks was born in 1780 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After his mother died when he was an infant, Hicks was sent to live with family friends, the Twinings, who raised him with their four daughters in a Quaker household. (left: Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849), The Peaceable Kingdom, 18331834, Oil on canvas, 17 1/4 x 34 1/4 inches, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center)
Hicks joined the Quakers, or the Society of Friends, in his youth and devoted much of his life to the ministry. He was believed to have a special gift in his ability to share the "light" or "inner light" -- sharing aloud messages from the Lord acquired in moments of silent spiritual contemplation. He was a popular and prominent Quaker minister, traveling to Friends meetings from Canada to Virginia. Edward Hicks was closely associated with his cousin, Elias Hicks, a famous Quaker leader who led his "Hicksite" sect in a breakaway from the mainstream Quaker movement in 1827. This division resulted in a bitter animosity between the two factions that was not resolved until 1955.
In addition to his religious notoriety, Hicks earned a considerable reputation in his community as a painter. This career began in his youth, when he was apprenticed to a coachbuilder in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, where Hicks developed his talent for decorative painting. He eventually established a successful ornamental painting business, decorating objects such as the aforementioned coaches, signboards, furniture, and household objects. Hicks's business was so successful that he subsequently took apprentices, among them his cousin Thomas Hicks, and noted 19th-century American landscape painter Martin Johnson Heade.
A Paradoxical Painter
Although Hicks's Quaker contemporaries recognized his talents -- Hicksite leader John Comly opined that "if the Divine law had not prohibited [Hicks] might have rivaled [Charles Willson] Peale or [Benjamin] West" -- his painting activities were seen by many Friends to a form of worldly indulgence, and he was compelled to give up his painting business for a time. Nonetheless, around 1820 Edward Hicks turned his painting career in a different direction, creating his first easel paintings. (left: Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849). The Residence of David Twining, 1787, 18461847, Oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 31 7/8 inches, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center)
The subject for Hicks's first works was the Peaceable Kingdom, a scene illustrating the Biblical prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 11: 6-9), and a subject acceptable to the Quakers, as it reflected their universal belief in pacifism and attaining peace on earth. Hicks derived his Peaceable Kingdom from an earlier engraving, The Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch, which appeared widely in Bibles and prayer books in the early 19th century. Throughout his career, from the 1820s to his death in 1849, Hicks created at least 60 versions of the Peaceable Kingdom. In fact, the night before he died, Hicks was working on a Peaceable Kingdom for his daughter Elizabeth.
Other subjects popular with Hicks included historical scenes such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, and Quaker William Penn's treaty with the Indians; farmscapes, including reminiscences of his childhood on the Twining farm; and various landscapes and Biblical scenes.
Although his paintings were little-known outside his immediate circle of family and friends, in the 1920s and 1930s the paintings of Edward Hicks were rediscovered by a new generation of artists, who saw in his unconventional works an affinity for their own new styles of art. Hicks's paintings were showcased in groundbreaking exhibitions of American folk art held at the Newark Museum in 1931 and the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1932. (left: Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849), Vanhorn signboard, ca. 1800, Oil on poplar wood, 17 1/8 x 54 5/16 inches, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center)
Today, Edward Hicks has become a well-known figure in the history of American art, represented in many major museum collections of American painting, and the subject of ongoing scholarly research and study.
The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks offers a comprehensive overview of Hicks's life as a painter. No fewer than 27 of his Peaceable Kingdoms are on display, as well as numerous other paintings, including farm and historical scenes. Also on view are rare examples of Hicks's decorative painting, and artifacts from his life.
Included in this grouping is the de Young Museum's own version of the Peaceable Kingdom, donated to the museum by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III in 1979. The de Young's Kingdom is a relatively late work, painted in 1846, portraying numerous symbolic animals that convey the message of the Peaceable Kingdom.
The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks originated at The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The exhibition has traveled to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum; the de Young Museum is the final stop on its tour. The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks has been organized by The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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