William Penn, Man of Vision, Courage, Action (An Interview with the Artist)

The Tercentenary Issue is a special edition of 8 features commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Pennsylvania, published March 1981.

On the Cover: William Penn, Man of Vision, Courage, Action, a mural painting by N.C. Wyeth Completed in 1933


It is the dramatic purpose of this mural painting to assert the heroic stature of William Penn as a man of vision and a leader …. The time is 1682, the year of his departure for America. He is thirty-eight years of age, youthful, strong, enthusiastic, and forward looking. His back is turned against the oppressiveness of Lon­don, the insecurity, the darkness and gloom of the 17th century in England – that century of the terrible plague, of the burning of London, of the incessant religious persecutions and political scandals. All these were lur­idly embellished with countless burnings at the stake, beheadings, and hangings.

Behind the figure of Penn stands the reflective figure of King Charles II. A clever king, and shrewd, but with a dark and dissolute side to his life and living. History tells us that Charles maintained, throughout his life, a fondness for Penn. Singular to us it seems, in the face of Penn’s disturbing activities in promoting Quakerism­ – that sect which stood in such growing ethical opposition to so many of the King’s principles and government. But the friendliness and good will were based upon more than personal attraction, for the King revered the memory of Penn’s father, the fighting admiral, and in turn he bestowed upon the son a real interest and con­cern which, at times, amounted to affection ….

Next to the King, presented in full figure, is his younger brother, the Duke of York, who in later years became King James II. He also was well disposed toward Penn, and took an active part in Penn’s enterprise.

The slightly older man, whose head appears between the King and his brother, is Sir Leonine Jenkins. This distinguished scholar and statesman was Secretary of State at this time, and had considerable to do in facili­tating the grant of land to William Penn.

Beyond this brilliantly apparelled royal group lies the London of history and romance; oppressive and tragic, it looms through the fog, clouds, and rain, which seem so expressive of its character during those dark and grim times. Spanning the murky waters of the Thames River, one sees a fragment of the London Bridge of history and legend.

From this somber background the stalwart figure of William Penn emerges and steps into the blazing light of dreams. Beside him there move in solemn procession his followers, people of his faith and hope. They are bathed in the light of a spiritual experience.

Standing in this same group, but somewhat alone and remote, is the rugged form of George Fox, the most forceful and electrifying figure in the entire history of Quakerism – single-minded in his purpose of Christian living; courageous in his activities; austere, but kindly.

Emblematic in its form and presentation is the good ship “Welcome,” headed before a fair breeze for the New World. It was in this ship that Penn and his settlers first came to Pennsylvania.

High up to the left of the painting, emerging from behind the fantasy of clouds, is the symbol of the prom­ised land, Pennsylvania. There lie its great waterway, its meadows, its small hills, and its mountains. It is sun drenched and peaceful.

N. C. Wyeth


The mural which appears on the cover and this inter­view are both courtesy of the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. The mural hangs in the company’s home office, Independence Square, Philadelphia.