In 1847 Hicks married Maria Hariss and six of their eight children were born in the seven years following. He did not achieve much success as an artist during this period and later referred to his art at this time as "small and unimportant." He blamed this on the fact he had little time to study art or interact with other artists, due to a busy family life.
In 1859, Hicks painted his first large genre painting, Dividend Day. Bank of England (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859) - following the success of Frith's paintings Ramsgate Sands and Derby Day at the Royal Academy. It was a typical genre painting, showing a scene from the Bank of England and featuring a broad range of social classes. He painted several more large modern life paintings in the following years which were generally poorly reviewed by critics. These include The General Post Office. One minute to 6 (1860), Billingsgate Fish Market (1861) and Changing Homes (1862). Hicks' paintings were often of subjects that no other artists attempted, such as the General Post Office and Billingsgate Fish Market. Hicks was one of the few artists that showed lasting interest in the emulation of Frith's style and is generally considered Frith's principal imitator.
By the late 1860s, the popularity of genre painting had waivered and Hicks began to focus on historical subjects, leading to society portraiture in the 1870s.
In 1884, Hicks remarried following the death of Maria in 1881. He retired in the 1890s and died a month before the declaration of World War I in 1914.