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Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Four Freedoms

Our recent visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, brought us face to face with some of the artist's most renowned works. Perhaps none of those pieces are more recognized or painted with such care as his "Four Freedoms" series.


The Four Freedoms were given voice in an address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 as much of the world was at war and within a year, the U.S. would be as well. He proposed four basic freedoms that "people everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. Two of these freedoms (religion and speech) are protected in the U.S. Constitution by the First Amendment. 


Rockwell was already a respected and well-known artist when Roosevelt made the Four Freedoms speech. As part of a career that would later include numerous paintings depicting World War II on both the home front and war zone settings, he viewed interpreting them in illustration as a wonderful opportunity. While he was considered apolitical, he had strong feelings regarding kindness and humanity, feelings he would repeatedly express in his work. 


The paintings were done in 1943, two years after the speech and after America entered the war. The series took seven months to complete. Rick calls them "the icons" and they are, representing both popularity and achievement. Measuring about 46x35 inches, the paintings were not only featured in "Saturday Evening Post" but went on a touring exhibition that accompanied the sale of war bonds, raising more than $132 million.

That said, the Office of War Information was a reluctant participant until after the paintings were published in the Post and the requests for reprints was overwhelming.


The series was inspired not only by Roosevelt's words but from a town meeting Rockwell had attended during which a man stood up to express a dissenting opinion and was respectfully listened to. This became the setting for "Freedom of Speech," using neighbor Jim Martin as his model.

He used both live models and photographs. "Freedom from Want"  has become known as "The Thanksgiving Painting" and included Rockwell's family members and friends at home in Arlington, Vermont. It is the family's cook who is seen serving the turkey. The painting was done using photographs of the models.


Jim Martin, who is seen in this painting sitting next to the little girl near the head of the table on the left was a frequently used model and is in all four paintings, most prominently in "Freedom from Fear," acting as the father.


In the scene, a couple holding a newspaper with the day's frightening  headlines as they watch over their sleeping child.


"Freedom of Worship" was considered the most controversial, featuring a number of faiths in prayer together. But by and large, the series was a success because the paintings spoke to the public in a way they could understand, using the values of unity and respect. Because the demographics of the "Saturday Evening Post" did not, at the time, have a large African-American or Islamic readership, the black woman and the gentleman in the Fez are in the corners of the painting, present but more discreet.


Whether one considered Rockwell "corny" or "down home" or a skilled artist adept at chronicling daily life, the public welcomed the works, which were to become the artist's most famous.

These Four Freedoms has never been more significant than today,  when so many feel threatened on any number of levels. Freedom of Speech is often curtailed and there is rarely respectful listening, while those in marches or protests often experience physical threats. In some states, bills are being introduced to restrict freedom of speech and right to assemble under the guise of protecting citizens (HERE and thanks, Mae, for drawing my attention to this). Religious groups are fighting threats of terror domestically and racism based on religion appears to be increasing. The "Not in my backyard" feeling has risen, challenging our country's role in welcoming refugees. Many in our own country suffer from want daily, lacking adequate food and nutrition (and, should you like to carry "want" beyond that, medical care, and lack of social services.) I know I am not the only one who has felt fear and anxiety, wondering if today or tomorrow will be the first day of a new military escalation.

In light of that, I leave you with the words of FDR in his 1941 speech, in case you didn't listen above!
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941

For more information, check out this informative Wikipedia article on the Four Freedoms paintings along with the Norman Rockwell Museum which has much information on the artist and his works (not to mention a fabulous gift shop!)

For another perspective on the Four Freedoms themselves, please visit Mae right HERE!

27 comments:

Joanne Huffman said...

A very good guide to these excellent pieces of art.

Mae Travels said...

Your history of the paintings and their impact is really meaningful. Thanks!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Valerie-Jael said...

Very good that you have featured these paintings and the info about the four freedoms, and it is to be hoped that these freedoms will be once again fully reinstated for everyone. Hugs, Valerie

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Not only are these paintings amazing they also represent freedom's we as citizens hold dear. We cannot be hiding our heads, we must look the evil in the eye and defeat it!

My name is Erika. said...

I think the American way of life is really being questioned right now. On one level, there's the 2 political views of what is the American way of life, those who accept change and those who cannot and expect it to be as it was 50 years ago. is one right or wrong, probably not, but it makes for a scary place right now. Never mind all the other factors going on-greed, terrorism...scary times. I love those painting though-and they really do speak to the heart of it all. And the FDR speech. What an amazing forward looking man he was and what a great legacy he left us. :) Great post Jeanie. Hugs-Erika

La Table De Nana said...


Well to me..he is an amazing ..skilled..artist.
A gift to everyone.The deatails are absolutely amazing..always loved his work but your posts brought all the little details even more into light.

Lynne said...

Rockwell's clarity in artistic skill . . . for me . . . depicts life . . . one I have lived . . . and live.
The details found in his Four Freedom paintings speak loud and clear.
And who would not want a life of Four Freedoms like that of which Roosevelt brought forward years ago.
Seems to be questioned, in question, more and more today . . .

Excellent post Jeanie . . .

I need orange said...

Excellent post, Jeanie. So much valuable info that is SO appropriate and so much needed just now.....

Thank you.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

The only one of the four freedoms I'm familiar with is the Freedom from Want. I think it was a very popular piece, and I got it as part of a calendar a few years ago.

Even though I don't discuss religion, I was most impressed by that painting. To have included all faiths and many nationalities is incredible. He was truly a gifted artist, and a wonderful forward thinking individual.

So glad you got to see this exhibit and shared it with us.

Marilyn Miller said...

Thanks for sharing these special pictures and words. I pray our country can return to a time of "Freedoms". I remember when we visited the museum hearing that Norman Rockwell always felt inferior as an artist and said he was just an illustrator. I think he was quite and amazing artist and person with heart.

Roz . Russell said...

Jeanie, thank you so much for this wonderful post which is so needed at this time when the world seems to have gone horribly wrong, religion seems to have been a real problem for some over thousands of years, not all I hasten to add, thank goodness there are more logical than not amongst us, I like you fear for the future and where it is going, things are certainly changing in the world and not necessarily for the good. x

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

This is why we need artists, poets, other talented souls to show us what we can't or don't want to see or hear. Brilliant work.

Pam Jackson said...

One of the most awesome artist! Amazing how he could bring people to life on canvas.

Danielle L Zecher said...

I didn't know about this series. Thank you for the art and history lesson. I've always loved the Freedom From Want painting, I've just always associated it with Thanksgiving, which I love. I think it's my favorite of the four.

doodletllc@yahoo.com said...

Excellent presentation of these beautiful paintings...love reading about the details of what went into each piece. One question...how large are the paintings? Usually the scale of a painting is lost when the copy is viewed. A fun post. :)

Kitty said...

Jeanie, as usual your elegant writing brings home the purposes of Rockwell when doing his paintings. So of ten we look at the art and fail to even think about the story behind it. You have a very special talent. Thanks so much for sharing it with me on a regular basis. Love to you and Rick.

Katie Clooney said...

Great post, Jeanie. Norman Rockwell's art always tells a story. I definitely need to make a road trip to the museum. Have a wonderful week.

Maggie said...

Absolutely the best post I've read this week, the story of the Freedoms should be shared across your nation in every newspaper and on every TV channel daily.
A much needed wake up call.
Well done for bringing this amazing series of paintings to the attention of your readers.
We visited the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge in 1987 and I purchased a print of the Religion Freedom painting there, I have it still.
Maggie Xx

Mary K.- The Boondocks Blog said...

Jeanie thank you for familiarizing us with these painting. I've seen the Thanksgiving dinner one manytimes but not the other ones. It also makes us wonder how much freedom we really have with all this manipulation going on around us. I live in Greece and feel that we have become economic slaves after 8 years of depression. Because to call it a recession would be ludicrous!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

How beautiful! I love these posts and appreciate all the time and effort you put into them. Wonderful for all of us to remember! Hugs, Diane

Arti said...

I used to buy Saturday Evening Post mag. just for the cover... well, for what's inside too. But can't deny the NR covers are unique and speak volumes. Thanks for sharing your the NRM and love these paintings. Enjoy your Easter posts too, the amount of time you must have spent on decorating your home... just amazing!

Sally Wessely said...

Thanks for sharing this. I grew up with the Saturday Evening Post and always loved Norman Rockwell. One of my most treasured possessions is a large book of much of Rockwell's work. My first husband bought it for me many, many years ago. I'd love to go to this museum.

The Four Freedoms series is such an important part of his body of work. It truly did give some powerful images for the American people. Thanks for doing all the work that you did to share this with us.

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, Rockwell's Four Freedoms are an amazing body of work. Thank you for sharing the stories behind the art...I enjoyed your post and research!

Elizabeth Eiffel said...

Thank you for opening my eyes to these paintings and their history. Sadly the world still lacks these 4 fundamental freedoms while the clouds of fear and anxiety appear to be growing bigger by the day. May faith, hope and love be our cornerstones in these turbulent times.

Tracy said...

This is just sooo special... I'm almost speechless. What a beautiful highlight to Rockwell's work, Jeanie... just a joy to see and read! :) ((HUGS))

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Bravo, Jeanie! Thanks for bringing these works of art to my attention, as well as FDR's speech. Makes me especially long for the days when the country was under the leadership of someone that could unite the country instead of dividing. It's sad that we need a reminder of those 4 freedoms but boy do we need it now. I was listening to a podcast lately and they talked about how there is a empathy deficit in the US right now. Many struggle to have empathy for others. They want to avoid looking at those who are struggling economically (or tell them to pull themselves up by their boot straps, even though that's not possible for many of the most disenfranchised). So they want them to go back to their own country and practice their religion that looks different from what they grew up learning. It's just sad. How did we, as a nation, become so callus and cold. I do feel encouraged by the number of people who are outraged by the behavior of our president and those who continue to support him. The accumulation of those voices will matter with time and hopefully we'll get back to focusing on and defending those 4 freedoms. Hopefully.

Jenny Woolf said...

Glad to see this post, Jeanie. I do love Norman Rockwell, (as I think I've said before in response to one of your posts). I don't think anyone has taken his place in modern society - I mean using narrative art to depict the world as the "getting along with each other" kind of place that most of us would recognise. I believe Rockwell yearned to do work that was somehow more serious and socially conscious than what he was known for - but I am glad he stuck with what he was good at, which was probably more effective than he realised.

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