Edward Hicks

The Peaceable Kingdom (c.1834)

Oil on canvas

The Peaceable Kingdom paintings of Pennsylvania Quaker Artist Edward Hicks are some of the best-loved works of American folk art. Who can resist the charm of his worldly-wise lion in the version in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., about as intimidating as Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz? Then, there are the children, little adults inappropriately dressed for a frolic with wild beasts; the bear and horned cow warily going muzzle to muzzle for an exploratory sniff; and the wolf with crossed paws, clearly having second thoughts about a peace pact with such temptingly accessible prey! Hicks was so enamored of the theme, based on the vision of a future Messianic Kingdom in Isaiah 11, he made over 100 studies with 62 surviving variations now in museums and collections.

An unpaid preacher in the Society of Friends, Hicks supported his family by painting coaches and signs, eventually turning to the more lucrative market in decorative household items, frowned upon by purist Quakers. The Peaceable Kingdom studies, however whimsically naive, reflect the artist’s longing to return to the original principles of William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” to found a community in the New World guided by the Quaker ideal of “what love can do.” Hick’s images of a harmonious animal kingdom include vignettes of the first followers of Penn making peace with the indigenous population.  By the time Hicks painted the National Gallery version of The Peaceable Kingdom in 1834, the Lenni Lenape people had been forced off their land and the Quaker community was be torn by schism.

Hicks followed the description of a future return to paradise in the Hebrew Scriptures closely in the National Gallery painting, portraying a wolf lying with a lamb, a leopard with a baby goat, a cow with a bear, and a lion with an ox, all led by little children. Jeff Meadows, an artist in the developmental disability program at the Goodwill Art Studio & Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, recombines these motifs in a delightful mixed media homage to the Hicks painting in the Collection. A winningly wall-eyed lion takes primacy of place in Mississippi Visionary Artist Carl Dixon’s version of The Peaceable Kingdom. In this mixed media on carved wood panel piece, the King of Beasts shelters a lamb, a leopard nuzzles a rabbit with the added biblical image of child sticking his hand safely into the den of “a cockatrice,” presented as a cobra.

Maine-based Artist Deborah Stevenson gives full reign to her fascination with allegory, symbol, and “mysterious archetypal conjunctions,” mixing and matching images to create the surrealist work, Warhol’s Cantaloupes in The Peaceable Kingdom Collage, where Hick’s idyllic scene is threatened by floating “space fruit” from the modern master of pop art. In the color intaglio print, William Penn and the Peaceable Kingdom, Philadelphia-born Printmaker Harriet Zeitlin offers another contemporary deconstruction of the Hick’s painting, where a rearing house cat has replaced the lion as the focal point of a composition built up with fragments for the original work, including the peace treaty scene, a shredded oxen, and a child with nothing to lead, forlornly floating in space.