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"[Thomas Hicks] strives to reproduce the character of a sitter in its highest and truest condition, to become in sympathy with the best phase... and to transcribe it."
A precocious painter of portraits and genre scenes, Thomas Hicks first earned recognition for his "likenesses" as a teenager. Hicks developed his talent by briefly attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design, and, most importantly, by touring Europe with fellow artists and studying in Paris with conservative painter Thomas Couture. Influenced by Couture, Hicks' mature style was naturalistic and classical. Although Hicks painted lively genre scenes, especially in Europe, he was best known for his portraits, many of which depicted celebrities, including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Charles Dickens. Perceptively capturing his sitters' personalities, Hicks painted his portraits d'apparat, meaning including props in the composition to suggest the interests and achievements of his sitters. For example, he accentuated Edward Hicks's identity as a Quaker artist, for example, by portraying him with a Bible and a Peaceable Kingdom resting on an easel beside him.
Renowned in his day as a portraitist, Thomas Hicks received commissions from many celebrities, including author Harriet Beecher Stowe and Senator Daniel Webster. Hicks's most famous sitter was Abraham Lincoln, whom he painted in 1860, after he was nominated to run for president. Hicks was delighted by the opportunity to become acquainted with Lincoln, whose friendliness and good humor impressed him and whose genuine interest in the portrait gratified him.
Lincoln said to Hicks, "I have been interested in the painting... and I am glad that you were selected to make the likeness, as it gives great satisfaction."
Hicks fondly remembered Lincoln's patience while his young son, Tad, and a friend, smeared paint all over the office walls. Through his warm, frank likeness of Lincoln, and of many famous contemporaries, Hicks has revealed the character of these great men and women to posterity.
Education and Training
Apprenticed to Edward Hicks, 1838
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1838
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, 1839
Studied in Europe, 1845-1849
Studied with conservative painter Thomas Couture, Paris, France
Teachers and Influences
Edward Hicks, his cousin and early instructor
Thomas Couture, Paris instructor
Connection to Bucks County
Born and raised in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Thomas Hicks first learned painting as an apprentice to his cousin, Edward Hicks. A star pupil, fourteen-year-old Thomas trained Edward's other apprentice, Martin Johnson Heade, in portraiture. Heade subsequently developed into a leading artist as well. Although Hicks spent much of his adult life traveling and working in New York, he often returned to Bucks County to visit family and friends.
Major Group Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1841, 1854, 1855, 1862, 1863, 1867, 1878, 1888
National Academy of Design, New York, New York
Boston Athenaeum, 1850-1855
An Evolving Legacy: Twenty Years of Collecting at the James A. Michener Art Museum, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2009-2010
Boston Athenaeum, Boston, Massachusetts
New York Historical Society, New York, New York
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Elected Academician, National Academy of Design, 1851
Member, Century Club