American, 1823–1890


“The portrait, genre, landscape, and occasional still-life painter Thomas Hicks was born in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He showed an early interest in drawing and is said to have started to paint at the age of fifteen. He was trained initially as a sign and coach painter by his cousin Edward Hicks (1780–1849). One of his earliest works was a portrait of Hicks, 1838 (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, Williamsburg, Va.). He continued his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and later at the National Academy of Design in New York. In January 1839 Hicks exhibited a portrait and a still life at the Apollo Association. The same year he also exhibited for the first time at the National Academy of Design, which elected him an associate two years later and an academician in 1851.

“Hicks went to Europe in 1845. He traveled to London, Paris, Florence, and Rome, where he shared a studio with John F. Kensett (1818–1872). He and Kensett visited Venice in August 1847. After returning to Paris in 1848, Hicks studied with Thomas Couture, whose atelier was becoming increasingly popular with American artists. According to G.W. Sheldon, Hicks “ascertained that the demerits rather than the merits of that painter usually descended upon his pupils, became satisfied that his own case was not likely to be an exception, and, after an eighteen months’ sojourn, came home” (p. 37). Hicks’s studies with Couture, however, had considerable influence on his painting style.

“In 1849 Hicks established himself as a portrait painter in New York. For a number of years he served as president of the Artists’ Fund Society in New York. A member also of the Century Association, he was remembered by a foreign visitor as “a pleasant boon-companion,” who besides “painting people, chiefly celebrities…used to mimic them amusingly” and was especially noted for his “whimsical” imitations of Daniel Webster (Eyre Crowe, With Thackeray in America [1893], pp. 73-74).

“One of Hicks’s most celebrated works is his portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1860 (Chicago Historical Society). Painted in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln’s nomination to the presidency and reputed to be the first portrait of the future president, it was commissioned by W.H. Shaus and Company, which subsequently issued a lithograph after the painting. Hicks’s account was published in A.T. Rice, ed., Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (1880). Other prominent figures who sat for Hicks were Henry Ward Beecher, William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Of his portraiture, the critic Henry T. Tuckerman observed: “He usually catches a likeness with facility, and often indulges in warmth of coloring and elaborate accessories which have contributed to the popularity of his portraits.”

“Hicks died at his country home, Thornwood, near Trenton Falls (West Canada Creek), New York, on October 8, 1890.”

(Doreen Bolger Burke, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Works by Art and Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, New York, 1980, vol. III).

Museum Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of the National Academy of Design, New York, NY
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

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