‘A Friendly Warning’ by American painter Thomas Hicks is another domestic scene that provides an interesting conversation piece. Exactly what is taking place is open to interpretation, but I assume that the man in the top hat, accompanied by the disreputable fellow to his right, are issuing the “friendly warning” to the seated man at the center. With his hands relaxed behind his head, I would guess this setting to be either his home or place of business, and the young man seen at the far left is probably his son or apprentice. Out of these four people we only see the faces of two men at the center and left, thus we’re urged to identify with them. Who knows what the “friendly warning” might actually be; this might sound stereotypical, but citing the gentleman in the top hat I’d guess that this premises stands in the way of the railroad that’s planned to be built through the area.
The room appears sparse and ill-kempt, indicating the owner is either poor or extremely modest. There’s a lot of open space in this room, allowing us to concentrate our attention on the occupants. Above the mens’ heads I notice there are several papers posted on the wall, perhaps adding further clues to the scene.
I like the presence of the stove; in addition to functioning to keep our occupants warm, it also suggests a simmering tension to the conversation. I really like that effect. If you look closely, in front of the stove there’s also a dog curled up, looking outward at the viewer.
On a final note, this piece is owned by the Art Institute of Chicago, which I’ve visited dozens of times, however I’ve never seen this out on display.
Details behind the cut.