Millions flock to museums to get a glimpse of European paintings by Dutch post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh. Others rush to see the masterpieces of Frida Kahlo, while other art enthusiasts and wannabes bolt to capture the craft of Diego Rivera’s paintings and murals.
Van Gogh’s personal life generated as much interest as his paintings, perhaps even more. He had cut off a portion of his ear in his later days and eventually committed suicide. Kahlo and Rivera – both 20th century Mexican artists with radical political views – had a tumultuous marriage, that involved Rivera having several affairs, including with Kahlo’s sister.
The life of Bucks County 18th century painter Edward Hicks was a lot more passive and his art less popular to the masses.
To art insiders, though, paintings of the self-taught, naive artist are most valuable and hard to come by.
“They are expensive,” said Connie Kimmerle, curator at the James A. MichenerArt Museum in Doylestown in Bucks County. “There aren’t many on the market.”
His oil canvas paintings are market driven, making it difficult to put price tags on them, she said.
What makes them so valuable?
Hicks is considered an American primitive folk painter, Kimmerle said.
He died at 69 years old. The paintings of his last 10 years are considered his best, such as the “The Grave of William Penn,” “The Cornell Farm” and “PeaceableKingdom” – all are owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Before painting on canvas, Hicks painted coaches for a living, and became a devoted Quaker minister. It wasn’t until he was middle aged that he started to make easel paintings, some of which had moral messages that derived from his Quaker roots.
“Although he feared that art was contrary to religion, he testified that it could sometimes bring meaning to life,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Kimmerle said the Michener museum would “love” to have a Hicks painting in their permanent collection.
The museum, however, has had Hicks’ “The Landing of Columbus” on loan from the National Gallery of Art for more than five years, Kimmerle said, adding that loan is under annual renewal.
The painting depicts about a half dozen dark-looking men arriving to a land with palm trees in a small-wood vessel. A man is standing on the bow holding a white flag. In the background there are two large caravels waiting.
The museum does own a portrait of Hicks, which is part of its permanent collection. The art piece was painted by Thomas Hicks, his younger cousin, who he taught to paint.
It’s a dark shadowed portrait of Hicks sitting down holding a color palette and he’s dressed in a time-period three piece outfit.
Hicks was born in Attleboro – now Langhorne Borough – on April 4, 1780.
In the town’s council chambers there’s a large reproduction of Hicks’ most admired and notable art piece – “Peaceable Kingdom.”
Hicks was devoted to his Quaker faith and drew about farm life, landscape, animals and peace. In “Peaceable Kingdom,” he portrayed just that.
He painted more than 60 versions of it between 1820 and his death, according to Worcester Art Museum, the owner of the most popular version.
“The theme of this painting, drawn from Chapter 11 of Isaiah, was undoubtedly attractive to Hicks and fellow Quakers not only for its appealing imagery but also for its message of peace: ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them,’” reads the museum’s website, worcesterart.org. “Into many versions, including the Worcester painting, Hicks incorporated a vignette of William Penn’s treaty with the Indians, an image he adapted from a popular painting by Benjamin West. Hicks may have viewed parallels in the two parts of the composition, inasmuch as Penn, who had introduced Quakerism into Pennsylvania, had also brought about a measure of the peaceable kingdom on earth.”
Worcester Art Museum officials did not return phone calls to BucksCountyInTime after leaving several voice messages.
Scholars say “Peaceable Kingdom” portray the artist’s, “feelings and beliefs depicting the conflict between the inward spiritual and religious life and the outward worldly life” and Hicks “was driven by his need to visualize the lessons he learned from Isaiah’s prophecy and the importance to Quaker quietism, such lessons centered on denying or relinquishing the willful self,” according to explorepahistory.com.
Very much a Bucks County man, Hicks lived nearly 40 years in Newtown Borough, where he died on August 23, 1849.
In the Newtown area – Newtown Borough abuts Newtown Township – Hicks is recognized not only for his talent of crafting works of art, but also for his leadership in the Quaker faith.
Hicks came from humble and tragic beginnings. During the American Revolution, Hicks suffered major financial losses. His mother, Catherine Hicks, died when he was a year old. He was sent to Newtown Township, where he was raised by the Twining family, who were Quakers.
Because he didn’t have any scholarly interests, he began an apprenticeship at 13 years old with the Tomlinson brothers, who were coachmakers in Attleborough, according to National Gallery of Art.
His artisan skills took off from there.
“This apprenticeship furnished him with the technical skills he would apply to the easel paintings he executed fairly late in his life,” according to the National Gallery of Art website, http://www.nga.gov.
At age 20, Hicks ventured into setting up his own shop. He closed it, though, to help a doctor from Northampton Township craft a new carriage style. During his time working with the doctor, Hicks would have religious discussions that lead him to rediscover his Quaker faith. After suffering from a severe illness, Hicks began to attend Quaker meetings, which lead him to become interested in ministry.
In 1801, the young Hicks moved to Milford, now Hulmeville, where he was employed by another coachmaker. In his twenties, Hicks painted items such as signs, furniture and coaches.
In 1803, Hicks wedded childhood friend Sarah Worstall; they had four children.
By spring of 1811, he moved his family to Newtown Borough. That same year, Hicks started his ministry tour, one of many.
“He moved into the house with the brick front on Court Street near Tucker’s Tavern (the Court Inn), which he had bought from Abraham Chapman (a prominent attorney at the time,)” reads Newtown Historic Association website,www.newtownhistoric.org. “He soon opened a shop in his back yard and carried on his business of coach and sign painting. A few months after this move, he became a Friends minister.”
During his tours, he reportedly allured crowds, has been “described as one of the most popular and leading ministers of his time,” according the National Gallery of Art website.
“From this point on his religious interest would dominate his life,” reads the website. “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.”
When he moved to Newtown Borough, the Quaker faithful was determined to establish the town’s first Friends Meeting House, which ultimately was erected onCourt Street on a two-acre lot. Hicks was the first speaker at the first meeting in 1817.
“Through serving on Friends’ committees he became involved with the major social concerns of his day: peace, temperance, relations between the sexes, education, poverty and race relations,” reads the historical association’s website.
Hicks was cousin to Elias Hicks, who was a liberal Quaker and abolitionist advocate. He broke off from the old school Quaker teachings after a theological quarrel in 1827-28, and created his own sect and his followers referred to as Hicksites.
Hicks supported his cousin’s religious movement and visited him 1820.
“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,” according to the National Gallery of Art.
Ten years after moving to the borough, Hicks built a stone house on what is now Penn Street. There, he built his coach shop in the back yard and his paint shop above the carriage house adjoining his home. Local businesses went to him for their storefront signs, according to historical association.
The stone house has been preserved without any drastic changes. The public can visit it.
He lived in quaint Newtown until his death and is buried in the Friend’s cemetery in the borough. There were about 3,000 mourners at his funeral, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.