This painting is one of eight known versions that include rhymes in the borders referring to the biblical prophecy of Isaiah, which expresses the hope and promise of peace on earth. The words also allude to a historical event: William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, which Edward Hicks believed to represent a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, with the Quakers establishing a peaceable kingdom on earth.
Few American artists are as beloved as Hicks, a devout Pennsylvania Quaker preacher and painter whose fascination with the religious theme of the peaceable kingdom constitutes one of the most popular and complex stories in American art. Toylike animals; placid landscape scenes, mostly of the Delaware Water Gap; and renditions of Penn’s treaty consistently populate Hicks’s kingdoms—so peaceable in their ideal of universal harmony, yet weighted with national and religious concerns of the time. Naively and at times crudely painted, Hicks’s canvases nonetheless radiate passion and charm, and their underlying sources and motivations suggest a rare complexity in the field of so-called American “folk art.”