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!