Freedom from Want (painting)

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Freedom from Want
Freedom from Want.jpg
Artist Norman Rockwell
Year 1943
Type oil on canvas
Dimensions 116.2 cm × 90 cm (45.75 in × 35.5 in)
Location Norman Rockwell Museum,
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
United States

Freedom from Want, The Thanksgiving Picture or I’ll Be Home for Christmas is the third of a series of four oil paintings by artist and illustrator Norman Rockwell, which are collectively known as the Four Freedoms. The works were inspired by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms. Until then, Freedom from Want was not a commonly understood and accepted universal freedom.

Freedom from Want was created in November 1942 and published in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. All of the people in the picture were friends and family of Rockwell in Arlington, Vermont, who were photographed individually and painted into the scene. The work depicts a group of people gathered around a dinner table for a holiday meal. Having been partially created on Thanksgiving 1942, it has become an iconic representation of the Thanksgiving holiday and family holiday gatherings in general. It has been widely imitated and parodied.

The painting has had a wide array of uses, adaptations and parodies. For example, it served as the 1946 book cover for Norman Rockwell, Illustrator. Although the image was popular at the time in the United States and remains so, it caused resentment in Europe where the masses were enduring hardship at the time. Artistically, the work is highly regarded as an example of mastery of the challenges of white-on-white painting.

Freedom from Want was published with a corresponding essay by Carlos Bulosan as part of the Four Freedoms series. 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.


Freedom from Want is the third of a series of four oil paintings entitled Four Freedoms painted by Norman Rockwell. The works were inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms, delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941.[1] The Four Freedoms' theme was eventually incorporated into the Atlantic Charter,[2][3] and it became part of the charter of the United Nations.[1] The series of paintings ran in The Saturday Evening Post accompanied by essays from noted writers on four consecutive weeks: Freedom of Speech (February 20), Freedom of Worship (February 27), Freedom from Want (March 6) and Freedom from Fear (March 13). Eventually, the series became widely distributed in poster form and became instrumental in the U. S. Government War Bond Drive.[4]


"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."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's January 6, 1941 State of the Union address introducing the theme of the Four Freedoms[5]

The illustration is an oil on canvas, measuring 45.75 by 35.5 inches (116.2 cm × 90.2 cm). The Norman Rockwell Museum describes it as a story illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, making the essay and this painting complementary works.[6] However, the painting was also part of a deliberative visual expression of Roosevelt's broad overarching freedoms on canvas.[7]

The painting shows a woman presenting a robust turkey to various generations of her family.[8] 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.[9] 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 water-filled glasses. The people in the painting are not actually eating because the painting depicts emptiness, especially their plates before they begin serving the meal. In the background we see billowing curtains.[10] In addition there is a covered silver serving dish that would traditionally hold potatoes, according to one source.[10] However, another source describes this as a covered casserole dish.[7] 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".[7] The light gleaming through the windows implies that the painting depicts a mid-afternoon meal.[11]


"Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I've ever eaten the model."


In mid-June, 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.[13] By early fall, the authors for the Four Freedoms had submitted their essays. In mid-November, Hibbs wrote Rockwell pleading that he not scrap his third work in order to start over. Hibbs alleviated Rockwell's concern that his work did not match Bulosan's text. He noted that they only needed to both address the same topic rather than be in unison. Hibbs also pressured Rockwell into completing his work soon under the advisment that the magazine was soon going to place restrictions on four-color printing use and that Rockwell better get this work published before it would be relegated to halftone printing.[14]

In 1942, Rockwell decided to use his Arlington, Vermont neighbors as models for the Four Freedoms series.[15] In Freedom from Want, he depicted the setting of his own living room with the painting and relied on neighbors for advice as well as critical commentary in addition to their service as his models.[13] For Freedom from Want, Rockwell photographed his cook as she presented the turkey on Thanksgiving Day 1942.[12] He stated that he painted the turkey on that day, and said that unlike Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship, this painting was not difficult to execute.[16]Rockwell's wife Mary is in this painting and the family cook, Mrs. Thaddeus Wheaton,[17] is serving the turkey, which was actually the Rockwell family turkey that they ate that day.[18] Jim Martin appears in each painting in the series, including this one.[19] 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.[11][20] 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.[12] Shirley Hoisington, the girl at the end of the table, was six at the time.[21]

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.[22] 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.[7]


Norman Rockwell, early in his career

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.[23] This symbol is not limited to Thanksgiving: The work is even sometimes known by the name I’ll Be Home for Christmas.[24] It is considered one of Rockwell's finest works.[11] 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.[25] Outside of the United States, this image is commonly perceived as a depiction of American overabundance.[26] 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.[27] Rockwell summed up his own form of idealism best: "I paint life as I would like it to be."[28]

Despite Rockwell's general optimism, in this work, he had misgivings about having depicted such a large turkey.[20] He was sympathetic to the fact that the painting was produced in 1943 when much of Europe was "starving, overrun [and] displaced".[29][30] Rockwell noted that this painting was not popular in Europe:[29][30] "The Europeans sort of resented it because it wasn't freedom from want, it was overabundance, the table was so loaded down with food."[10] 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 displays 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 invoking the Puritan origins of the Thanksgiving holiday.[10] Robert Hughes also noted that the work has a "Puritan tone confirmed by the glasses of plain water on the table.[31] 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 suggests that ensuring this freedom was not as much of a governmental responsibility as it was something born from participation in the mass consumer economy according to historian Lizabeth Cohen.[29]

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).[32] The abundance and unity it shows were the idyllic hope of a post-war world and this image has been reproduced in various formats during the following decades.[25]

One of the notable and artistically challenging elements of the image is Rockwell's use of white-on-white: white plates are shown on a white tablecloth.[7][26] Art critic Deborah Solomon describes it as "one of the most ambitious plays of white-against-white since Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 1".[31] Solomon also describes the work as "a new level of descriptive realism. Yet, the painting doesn't feel congested or fussy; it is open and airy in the center. Extensive passages of white paint nicely frame the individual faces."[31]

Jim Martin, who is pictured looking back at the audience in the lower right, gives a glance that is depicted in a manner that is described as coy and somewhat mischievous.[31] He is a microcosm of the entire scene in which no one appears to be giving thanks in a traditional manner at the Thanksgiving dinner.[31] 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.[33] Theologian David Brown sees gratitude as implicit in the painting.[34] Kenneth Bendinder writes that Rockwell was mindful of the The Last Supper and that the painting's perspective echoes its rendition by Tintoretto.[35]


Freedom from Want was published with a corresponding essay by Carlos Bulosan as part of the Four Freedoms series. 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.[36][nb 1] As he neared his thirtieth birthday, Philippine immigrant and labor organizer[37] 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.[38] Continuing to be impoverished after immigrating to the United States at age sixteen, Bulosan was considered an appropriate choice by Post editors who were familiar with him, due to his lack of experience with this freedom.[39] Thus, the Post tracked down the migrant worker to request his essay contribution.[39] Bulosan rose to prominence during World War II as the Commonwealth of the Philippines, a United States commonwealth occupied by Japan, struggled to be recognized. To many Americans, Bulosan's essay marked his introduction. Afterwards, his name was well recognized.[40] 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.[38]

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.[41] 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".[42] 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.[42] In a voice likened to Steinbeck in works such as The Grapes of Wrath,[38][41] 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.[38] 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 as it did not guarantee Americans the essentials of life.[37]

Pop culture[edit]

The painting was used as the 1946 book cover for Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, written when Rockwell was "at the height of his fame as America's most popular illustrator."[23] 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.[43] 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.[26] 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.[44] The painting was also featured in the May 16, 2012, season 3 "Tableau Vivant" episode of the comedy series, Modern Family.[45] Another well-known imitation of the work is the cover art to Tony Bennett's 2008 Christmas album that features the Count Basie Big Band and is entitled A Swingin' Christmas (Featuring The Count Basie Big Band).[46][47] The parody includes all 13 members of Count Basie's band.[48]


  1. ^ The essay is considered one of the author's most notable works and is compared to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.


  1. ^ a b "100 Documents That Shaped America:President Franklin Roosevelt's Annual Message (Four Freedoms) to Congress (1941)". U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, L.P. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  2. ^ Boyd, Kirk (2012). 2048: Humanity's Agreement to Live Together. ReadHowYouWant. p. 12. ISBN 1-4596-2515-3. 
  3. ^ Kern, Gary (2007). The Kravchenko Case: One Man's War on Stalin. Enigma Books. p. 287. ISBN 1-929631-73-1. 
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  11. ^ a b c Solomon, Deborah (2013). "Fifteen: The Four Freedoms (May 1942 to May 1943)". American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-374-11309-4. 
  12. ^ a b c Meyer, Susan E. (1981). Norman Rockwell's People. Harry N. Abrams. p. 133. ISBN 0-8109-1777-7. 
  13. ^ a b Fischer, David Hackett (2004). Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas. Oxford University Press. p. 556. ISBN 0-19-516253-6. Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
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  19. ^ "I Like To Please People". Time magazine (Time Inc.). 1943-06-21. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  20. ^ a b Heitman, Danny (2013-11-27). "Thanksgiving: A look back at Norman Rockwell's iconic illustration 'Freedom From Want': Deborah Solomon's book 'American Mirror' gives a new perspective to one of Rockwell's most famous paintings.". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  21. ^ Murray, Stuart and James McCabe (1993). Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms. Gramercy Books. p. 50. ISBN 0-517-20213-1. 
  22. ^ Heydt, Bruce (February 2006). "Norman Rockwell and the Four Freedoms". America in WWII. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  23. ^ a b Guptill, Arthur L. (1972). Norman Rockwell, Illustrator (seventh ed.). Watson-Guptill Publications. pp. cover, vi, 140–149. 
  24. ^ Daniels, Robert L. (2008-12-16). "Review: ‘Tony Bennett’". Variety. Retrieved 2014-06-12. 
  25. ^ a b Rosenkrantz, Linda (2006-11-13). "A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving". Canton Repository. The Repository. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  26. ^ a b c Hennessey, Maureen Hart and Anne Knutson (1999). "The Four Freedoms". Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. with High Museum of Art and Norman Rockwell Museum. p. 102. ISBN 0-8109-6392-2. 
  27. ^ Dempsey, Amy (2002). "1918–1945: American Scene". Art in the Modern Era. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 165. ISBN 0-8109-4172-4. 
  28. ^ Wright, Tricia (2007). "The Depression and World War II". American Art and Artists. HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-06-089124-4. 
  29. ^ a b c Borgwardt, Elizabeth (2007). A New Deal For The World. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-28192-6. Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  30. ^ a b Albisa, Catherine, Martha F. Davis and Cynthia Soohoo, ed. (2007). Bringing Human Rights Home: Portraits of the movement. Praeger Perspectives. p. 33. ISBN 0-275-98821-X. Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
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  32. ^ Hughes, Robert (1997). "The Empire of Signs". American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 508–509. ISBN 0-679-42627-2. 
  33. ^ Deborah Solomon (October 2013). "Inside America's Great Romance With Norman Rockwell". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2013-11-27. 
  34. ^ David Brown (3 February 2011). God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary. Oxford University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-19-959996-7. 
  35. ^ Kenneth Bendiner (2004). Food in Painting: From the Renaissance to the Present. Reaktion Books. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-86189-213-3. 
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  37. ^ a b Westbrook, Robert B. (1993). "Fighting for the American Family". In Fox, Richard Wightman and T. J. Jackson Lears. The Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History. University of Chicago Press. p. 204. ISBN 0-226-25955-2. Retrieved 2013-11-30. 
  38. ^ a b c d Saldívar, Ramón David (2006). The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Duke University Press Books. p. 211. ISBN 0-8223-3789-4. Retrieved 2013-11-30. 
  39. ^ a b Murray, Stuart and James McCabe (1993). Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms. Gramercy Books. p. 62. ISBN 0-517-20213-1. 
  40. ^ Espiritu, Augusto Fauni (2005). Five Faces of Exile: The Nation and Filipino American Intellectuals. Stanford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-8047-5121-8. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  41. ^ a b Vials, Chris (2009). Realism for the Masses: Aesthetics, Popular Front Pluralism, and U.S. Culture, 1935–1947. University Press of Mississippi. p. XXI. ISBN 1-60473-123-0. Retrieved 2013-11-30. 
  42. ^ a b Steiner, Michael C. (2013). Regionalists on the Left: Radical Voices from the American West. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 307. ISBN 0-8061-4340-1. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  43. ^ Green, Penelope (28 October 2001). "MIRROR, MIRROR; Rockwell, Irony-Free". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 October 2010. 
  44. ^ "Trivia". The Walt Disney Company. December 29, 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  45. ^ Winn, Steven (2012-11-04). "Norman Rockwell revival at Crocker". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  46. ^ "Tony Bennett: A Swingin' Christmas". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-06-12. 
  47. ^ Edgar, Sean (2008-12-16). "Tony Bennett featuring the Count Basie Big Band: A Swingin' Christmas". Paste. Retrieved 2014-06-12. 
  48. ^ Loudon, Christopher (December 2008). "Tony Bennett: That Holiday Feeling". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2014-06-12. 

External links[edit]