Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1826–1828
Edward Hicks, American, 1780–1849
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 32 3/8 × 42 3/8 in. (82.3 × 107.7 cm)
The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Habits of Mind

  • SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications

Writing a Family History

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Explain ways in which art tells about the past and its leaders such as William Penn.

•  Identify primary and secondary sources of historical information.

•  Research and write their own family history.




Social Studies



Connecting to the Work of Art

Edward Hicks’s The Peaceable Kingdom presents an ideal world of peace and harmony.  The artist combines the biblical image of a child surrounded by animals with a scene of William Penn’s treaty with the Indians.  The scene in the right foreground was inspired by a verse in the biblical book of Isaiah, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”  Here the animals named in biblical verse gather around a young child dressed in white with a red sash, and holding an olive branch, a symbol of peace.


At the left in the middle ground are William Penn and his men, in their distinctive Quaker dress, meeting the Indians.  In 1681, King Charles II of England gave the area now called Pennsylvania, or Penn’s woods, to William Penn’s father in payment for a debt.  William Penn, a Quaker who had been persecuted because of his religion, wanted to establish freedom of religion and the right to self-government in Pennsylvania.  He also made a treaty with the Indians and paid them for their land.  He was so honest and fair with the Indians that they never attacked Penn’s colony. 


In the distance of the painting is the ship that brought Penn and his Quaker followers to the New World.  Hicks’s words interpreting the scene are painted in the borders.  In the corners are words and emblems for virtues including liberty, innocence, and meekness.


The full faces and expressive eyes of the children and animals in the work demonstrate Hicks’s early ability as a portrait artist. His background as a sign painter is evident in the detailed lettering that surrounds the painting. The artist creates a sense of depth by making the objects in the distance smaller and less detailed. The diagonal lines of the path and of the river also serve to lead the eye to the horizon. While some elements in the painting are carefully observed from nature, the animals are rather fanciful. The cool colors create a somber mood.


Edward Hicks began his career as a sign- and coach-painter.  He also painted expert lettering on leather buckets for the volunteer fire department.  From these beginnings, Hicks began painting farm scenes and landscapes, and he soon embarked on his most famous works, The Peaceable Kingdom, of which he may have painted more than one hundred versions.  Hicks himself was a Quaker, and he intended these paintings to be a visual message of harmony, exemplifying the Quaker vision of a peaceful society.  For many years, Hicks devoted himself to preaching, and his joy and pleasure in painting caused him much inner turmoil because he felt it conflicted with his religious beliefs.


•  Review each work of art and what it expresses about the experience and background of each artist.

•  Discuss ways in which works of art are important in learning about history.  How is each of these works effective in expressing the artist’s idea about his heritage?

•  Think about museums as containing works from diverse cultures.  Discuss the importance of museums in preserving and sharing objects from many cultures.


•  Discuss primary sources and secondary sources of historical information.  List examples of each.  Discuss whether works of art are primary or secondary sources.

•  Use the information gathered for the art lesson to write family or cultural histories represented in works of art.  Encourage students to make connections between family history and world and national events (for example, families relocating because of war or economic hardship).

•  Have students list the sources they used to write their histories and identify each as primary or secondary.

Resources Available to Order

The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.

The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.