Edward Hicks was born in 1780 in Attleborough (now Langhorne), Pennsylvania, into a family that had suffered severe financial losses during the Revolution. After Edward's mother died in 1781, he was raised by a Quaker family named Twining.
Hicks apparently had no scholarly interests and at the age of thirteen was apprenticed to the Tomlinson brothers, coachmakers in Attleborough. This marked the beginning of his training as an artisan. This apprenticeship furnished him with the technical skills he would apply to the easel paintings he executed fairly late in his life. Hicks briefly set up his own business in 1800 but closed it to help a Northampton, Pennsylvania, doctor build a new kind of carriage. Religious discussions with this employer increased Hicks' awareness of his Quaker roots. After a severe illness, his lively character became more introspective, and he began attending Quaker meetings.
Hicks moved to Milford (now Hulmeville), Pennsylvania, in 1801 to work for another coachmaker and painter; two years later he married Sarah Worstall, a childhood friend, with whom he had four children. Hicks at this time was painting signs, furniture, coaches, lettering, and floor cloths, but he became increasingly interested in the Quaker ministry. He set out on the first of his many preaching trips in 1811, the same year he moved his family to Newtown, Pennsylvania. His sermons reportedly attracted crowds, and he was described as one of the most popular and leading ministers of his time. From this point on his religious interest would dominate his life. Nonetheless, he continued painting, which he described as "one of those trifling insignificant arts" and principally a way to "get an honest living." He briefly left the painting trade for farming in 1813 but had returned to it by 1815, when he began to produce elaborate signs with the help of several assistants.
In 1820 Hicks visited his cousin Elias Hicks, a principal figure in the theological rift that split the Quakers in 1827. Edward joined his cousin's Hicksite movement and remained a passionate defender of its tenets. Several of his paintings reveal how profoundly this controversy affected the artist's life. Elias Hicks appears in all of the canvases, and two of them include a verbal allusion to Hicksite doctrine.
Hicks' religious concerns, however strong in the 1830s, did not totally eclipse his artistic life. While he continued to paint variations on the Quaker theme of peace and brotherly love throughout his life, as exemplified by his more than sixty versions of the Peaceable Kingdom, he also apparently offered artistic instruction. Hicks reportedly taught his younger cousin Thomas Hicks, and the Bucks County Intelligencer in 1864 reported that, as a youth, the academic painter Martin Johnson Heade was "placed under the instruction of Edward Hicks...to be taught the art of painting."
The paintings from the 1840s, the last decade of Hicks' life, are considered his best and include the National Gallery's The Grave of William Penn (1980.62.12), The Cornell Farm (1964.23.4) and later Peaceable Kingdoms. Edward Hicks died August 23, 1849. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Hicks, Edward. Memoirs of the Life and Religious Labors of E. Hicks. Philadelphia, 1851.
Dresser, Louisa. "The Peaceable Kingdom." Bulletin of the Worcester Art Museum 25 (Spring 1934): 25-30.
Price, Frederick Newlin. Edward Hicks 1780-1849. The Benjamin West Society, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, 1945.
Bye, Arthur Edwin. "Edward Hicks." Art in America 39 (February 1951): 23-35.
Ford, Alice. Edward Hicks, Painter of the Peaceable Kingdom. Philadelphia, 1952.
Mather, Eleanore Price. Edward Hicks: His Peaceable Kingdoms and Other Paintings. Newark, Delaware, 1983.
Ford, Alice. Edward Hicks, His Life and Art. New York, 1985.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 182-183.