Artist: Edward Hicks
Title: The Declaration of Independence, 1776
Oil on canvas
Overall, Support: 26 x 29 1/2 in. (66 x 74.9 cm) Overall, Frame: 33 1/2 x 30 in. (85.1 x 76.2 cm) Overall: 25 3/4 x 29 1/4 in. (65.4 x 74.3 cm)
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
What details from the painting help you to describe what is happening in this scene?
What clues tell you when this scene is taking place?
Who are the most important figures? How do you know?
This painting is very similar to a theatrical stage perspective. The artist has provided a view of each person in the room. Thomas Jefferson is identified for the viewer as important: he has red hair, wear red, white, and blue, and stands in the front of the “stage.” Benjamin Franklin is on his left, identifiable by the glasses held in his hand. The others are very similar in appearance, with the same expression and rosy cheeks. An engraving found in Charles A. Goodrich’s 1829 book The Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence most likely inspired Edward Hicks, who owned a copy of the book. The engraving was of the painting created by John Trumbull, whose image, Declaration of Independence, is printed on the reverse of the $2 bill.
Edward Hicks of Pennsylvania is one of America’s best-known folk painters. While many artists travelled to Europe for formal training, folk artists did not. As a Quaker preacher, Hicks was also a carriage decorator and sign painter. He was self-taught and often painted religious stories, farm scenes, and patriotic images from American history. The Chrysler Museum of Art has another painting by Edward Hicks, Washington at the Delaware, inspired by General George Washington’s first victory. When Hick’s completed his painting, wars had been fought in the last 50 years, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and the new nation was about to turn 100 years old. Many artists used heroes and victories from these events as subjects in their art, creating stirring images of national pride.
Both Edward Hicks and John Trumbull chose this moment to paint because of its historical importance. Why would paintings of American history have been so popular so many years after they had taken place?
Think of another event in history that you could memorialize with a single image, whether a painting, sculpture, or photograph. What would it look like? Who or what would you include?
Try to find a copy of Trumbull’s painting on the reverse of the two-dollar bill. Compare it to Hick’s painting.