Freedom from Want (painting)
|Type||oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||116.2 cm × 90 cm (45.75 in × 35.5 in)|
|Location||Norman Rockwell Museum,
Freedom from Want or The Thanksgiving Picture is the third of a series of four oil paintings entitled, Four Freedoms painted by Norman Rockwell. The works were inspired by United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt in a State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms, delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941. The other paintings in this series were Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Fear. Unlike the other freedoms, Freedom from Want was not a commonly understood and accepted universal freedom before its presentation.
Considered to be a story illustration, Freedom from Want was published in the March 6, 1943, issue of The Saturday Evening Post with a corresponding essay by Carlos Bulosan as part of the Four Freedoms series. The essay is considered one of the authors most notable works and is compared to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Bulosan's essay spoke on behalf of those enduring the socioeconomic hardships domestically rather than those enduring sociopolitical hardships abroad, and it thrust him into prominence.
The painting was included as the cover image of the 1946 book Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, written when Rockwell was "at the height of his fame as America's most popular illustrator." Although the image was popular in the United States, it caused resentment in Europe where the masses were enduring hardship at the time.
The illustration is an oil on canvas, measuring 45.75 by 35.5 inches (116.2 cm × 90 cm). The Norman Rockwell Museum describes it as a story illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, making the essay and this painting complementary works. However, the painting was also part of a deliberative visual expression of Roosevelt's broad overarching freedoms on canvas, making it a story illustration on a second level.
The painting shows a woman presenting a robust turkey to various generations of her family. She is the matriarch of the family serving the main entree to her children and grandchildren while wearing an apron in Rockwell's idealistic presentation of family values. The patriarch of the family looks on with fondness and approval from the head of the table. In addition to the turkey arriving the table has a bowl of fruit, what appears to be cranberry sauce, celery and pickles. However, the servings are less prominent than the presentation of white linen, white plates and empty glasses. The people in the painting are not actually eating because the painting depicts a lot of emptiness, especially their plates. In the background we see billowing curtains. In addition there is a covered silver serving dish that would traditionally hold potatoes, according to one source. However, another source describes this as a covered casserole dish. The table is the central element of the painting. Its creased tablecloth shows that this is a special occasion for "sharing what we have with those we love". From the light gleaming through the windows, we can deduce that the painting depicts a mid-afternoon meal.
Rockwell had sketched the Four Freedoms in charcoal and sought a commission from the Office of War Information (OWI), but was denied, "The last war you illustrators did the posters. This war we're going to use fine artists men, real artists." However, Saturday Evening Post editor, Ben Hibbs, recognized the potential of the set and encouraged him to produce them right away. Rockwell photographed his cook as she presented the turkey on Thanksgiving Day 1942. He claimed to have painted the turkey on that day, and said that unlike Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship, this painting was not difficult to execute. He depicted the setting of his own living room with the painting and relied on neighbors for advice as well as critical commentary and their service as his models.
In 1942 Rockwell decided to use his Arlington, Vermont neighbors as models for the Four Freedoms series. Rockwell's wife Mary is in this painting and the family cook, Mrs. Thaddeus Wheaton, is serving the turkey, which was actually the Rockwell family turkey that they ate that day. Jim Martin appears in each painting in the series, including this one. The 9 adults and 2 children who are depicted in the painting were actually photographed in Rockwell's studio and painted into the scene later. The models are (clockwise from Wheaton) Lester Brush, Florence Lindsey, Rockwell's mother Nancy, Jim Martin, Mr. Wheaton, Mary Rockwell, Charles Lindsey, the Hoisington children.
After the Four Freedoms series ran in The Saturday Evening Post, it made sets of reproductions suitable for framing available to the public and received filled 25,000 orders. Additionally the OWI, which six months earlier had declined to employ Rockwell to promote the Four Freedoms, requested 2.5 million sets of posters featuring the Four Freedoms for its war-bond drive in early 1943. Eventually, Rockwell bequeathed this painting to a custodianship that eventually became the Norman Rockwell Museum and it is now part of the museum's permanent collection. Rockwell lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts (the home of the museum) from 1953 until his death in 1978.
Of the four paintings, this is the one most often seen in art books with critical review and commentary. The painting has become a nostalgic symbol of an enduring American theme of holiday celebration. It is considered one of Rockwell's finest works. Although all four images were intended to promote patriotism in a time of war, Freedom from Want, which depicts an elderly couple serving a fat turkey to what looks like a table of happy and eager children and grandchildren, has given the idealized Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving work as important a place in the enduring marketplace of promoting family togetherness, peace and plenty as Hallmark at Christmas, according to Linda Rosenkrantz. Outside of the United States, this image is commonly perceived as a depiction of American overabundance. According to Amy Dempsey, this painting depicts the common positive Rockwell themes of American prosperity and dependability for a generation who looked to Rockwell to appeal to their traditional values. This image of family life is an example of the regionalism and idealism that dominate Rockwell's work. Rockwell summed up his own form of idealism best: "I paint life as I would like it to be." However, in this work, he had misgivings about having depicted to such a large turkey.
However, the painting was produced in 1943 when much of Europe was "starving, overrun [and] displaced". Rockwell noted that this painting was not popular in Europe: "Freedom From Want was not very popular overseas. The Europeans sort of resented it because it wasn't freedom from want, it was overabundance, the table was so loaded down with food." Richard Halpern notes that "overabundance rather than mere sufficiency is the true answer to want." He goes on to note that the painting not only depicts overabundance of food nourishment, but also "family, conviviality and security". He parallels the emotional nourishment provided by the image to that of the food nourishment that it depicts, noting that the picture is noticeably inviting. However, by depicting the table before the Turkey is actually rested on it with nothing but empty plates and white dishes on white linen, Rockwell may have been depicting the Puritan origins of the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, by choosing to depict this freedom as a celebration in the private family home rather than a worker with a job or a government protecting the hungry and homeless, Rockwell is said to have suggested that ensuring this freedom was not as much of a governmental responsibility as a something born from participation in the mass consumer economy.
To Robert Hughes, the painting represents the theme of family continuity, virtue, homeliness and abundance without extravagance in a Puritan tone (as confirmed by water as the modest beverage choice). The abundance and unity it shows were the idyllic hope of a post-war world and this image has endured for generations of reproductions. One of the esteemed elements of the image is his use of white on white.
Art critic Deborah Solomon notes a departure from previous depictions of the holiday. The participants do not lower their heads or raise their hands in the traditional poses of prayer. She describes it as "... a Thanksgiving table at which no one is giving thanks" and sees it as an example of treating American traditions in both sanctified and casual ways. One of the more challenging aspects of the painting was painting white on white as various white tableware elements were depicted on a white tablecloth.
As he neared his thirtieth birthday, Philippine immigrant and labor organizer Bulosan was experiencing a life that was not consistent with the theme Rockwell depicted in his version of Freedom From Want. Unknown for his pen, he was subsisting as a migrant laborer working in a catch as catch can manner. Bulosan rose to prominence during World War II as the Philippines struggled to be recognized. To many Americans, Bulosan's essay marked his introduction. Afterwards, his name was well recognized. The essay survived the editorial nightmare of having been lost by the Post, when Bulosan, who had no carbon copy was able to track down the only draft of the essay at a bar in Tacoma.
Freedom From Want had previously been less entwined in the standard liberalism philosophies of the western world than the other three freedoms (speech, fear, and religion), but this freedom made economic liberty an aspiration to reach for as a society. In his essay, Bulosan examines negative liberties as positive liberties by suggesting that Americans be "given equal opportunity to serve themselves and each other according to their needs and abilities" which is considered an echo of Karl Marx' "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". In the final paragraph of his essay the phrase "The America we hope to see is not merely a physical but also a spiritual and intellectual world." describes America from an egalitarian vision rather than as its more standard physical referent. In a voice likened to Steinbeck in works such as The Grapes of Wrath, Bulosan's essay which spoke up for those who struggled to survive in the capitalist democracy and was regarded as "haunting and sharp" against the backdrop of Rockwell's feast of plenty. It propounded the discussion of rights of citizens who should bear the allegiance to the democracy. With his essay from the perspective of the welfare state liberal, Bulosan presented the case that, unlike what Roosevelt would have said, the New Deal had not already granted freedom from want because freedom from want was a right that the state preserve its citizens' right to the bare essentials in life.
Parody and satire
This image's iconic status has led to parody and satire. New York painter Frank Moore re-created Rockwell's all-white Americans with an ethnically diverse family, as Freedom to Share (1994), in which the turkey platter was brimming over with health care supplies. Among the better known reproductions is Mickey and Minnie Mouse entertaining their cartoon family with a festive turkey. Several political cartoons and even frozen vegetable advertisements have invoked this image. In The Walt Disney Company film Lilo & Stitch, a montage of images prior to the end credits includes an homage of Freedom from Want featuring the characters of the film. The painting was also featured in the May 16, 2012, season 3 "Tableau Vivant" episode of the comedy series, Modern Family.
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