Edward Hicks was a painter, then a preacher, then a painter again.
Edward’s mother raised him Quaker, with the belief that all people and animals contained an inner light, a divine power that could redeem the soul and bring peace to earth. Hicks would chase that peace his whole life, as a rebellious youth, a traveling preacher, and finally through sixty-two versions of the “Peaceable Kingdom” — his vision of Isaiah 11:6.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
In the 1800’s you learned a trade through apprenticeship, and at age 13 Hicks was apprenticed to a coach maker, where he excelled at painting the elaborate ornamental designs popular among the New England upper class. By age 20, Hicks was independent, successful, and in his own words “exceedingly fond of singing, dancing, vain amusements, and the company of young people, and too often profanely swearing.”
But Hicks tired of frivolity, and soon traded ‘vain amusements’ for a Quaker wife and five children. Hicks wanted to be a good Quaker. He gave up ornamental painting, adopting instead the utilitarian styles supported by his ascetic doctrines. In 1813, Hicks followed in the footsteps of his older cousin Elias Hicks, becoming a itinerant preacher until he could no longer afford to support his family and travel.
The 1820’s were a hard time to be a Quaker. Hick’s cousin Elias had introduced a new liberal theology to the Religious Society of Friends, preaching that Jesus was just a man, that sexual passion wasn’t the devil’s fault, and that all slaves should be freed. Radical stuff for the time, and it caused a devastating split in the Quaker community.
In 1820 Edward Hicks found his voice. Amidst the vicious politicking of the approaching Quaker schism, Hicks turned back to painting, creating the first of many images of the “Peaceable Kingdom.” This theme, of wild animals quietly communing with children would become Hick’s message, his sermon. Hick’s skills grew, and he took commissions for other paintings, but he always returned to the Kingdom. His zoo of animals stood for more than just peace, they became symbols of laying down the idols of human pride — the lion symbolizing power and wealth, the leopard a lustful worldliness. All in submission to the innocence of a child.
Reed Enger, "Edward Hicks, A pacifist paints lions and leopards," in Obelisk Art History, Published April 04, 2016; last modified May 21, 2018, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/edward-hicks/.