Freedom of Worship (painting)
|Type||oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||116.8 cm × 90 cm (46 in × 35.5 in)|
|Location||Norman Rockwell Museum,
Freedom to Worship or Freedom of Worship is the second of the well-known Four Freedoms oil paintings produced by the American artist Norman Rockwell that were based on the four goals called the Four Freedoms enunciated by the President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address delivered on January 6, 1941. This painting was considered as the most successful of the series by Rockwell along with Freedom of Speech. This work from the series was published in the February 27, 1943 Issue of The Saturday Evening Post alongside an essay by a prominent thinker of the day Will Durant.
Freedom of Worship is the second 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. Of the Four Freedoms, the only two described in the United States Constitution were freedom of speech and freedom of worship. The Four Freedoms' theme was eventually incorporated into the Atlantic Charter, and it became part of the charter of the United Nations. 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). For the accompanying essay to Freedom of Worship, Post editor Ben Hibbs chose Durant, who was a best-selling author and at the peak of his fame. Durant also lectured on history and philosophy. At the time, Durant was in the midst of his ten-volume work The Story of Civilization. Eventually, the series became widely distributed in poster form and became instrumental in the U. S. Government War Bond Drive.
The painting shows the profiles of eight heads lumped together in a modest space. The various figures are supposed to represent people of various faiths in a moment of prayer. The bible-toting figure in the lower left is supposed to be Jewish. The wrinkled woman is a Protestant. The attractive dark-haired woman with the well-lit face holding the rosary beads is Catholic. In 1966, Rockwell used Freedom of Worship to show his admiration for John Kennedy in a Look story illustration, entitled JFK's Bold Legacy. The work depicts Kennedy in profile in a composition similar to Fredom of Worship along with Peace Corps volunteers.
The original version of this was set in a barbershop with patrons of a variety of religions and races all seeking barber services. His first workup was a 41 inches (100 cm) × 33 inches (84 cm) oil on canvas to depict tolerance as "the basis for a democracy's religious diversity". It included a Jewish man being serviced by a Protestant barber as an black man and a Roman Catholic priest awaited his services. The problem was painting easily recognizable depictions of different religions and races because there was little agreement on what a person of certain religions should look like. However, as he attempted to clarify his the characters he was presenting he found himself resorting to offensive overexaggeration, especially the non-clerical characters. Making a Jewish man appear stereotypically Semitic, making a white customer preppy and relegating the black man to agrarian workman attire bogged down the work without speaking on behalf of the government as it should. However, Rockwell's intended theme was religious tolerance, and it seemed lost in the original composition according to Rockwell.
In June 1942, Post editor Ben Hibbs took to Rockwell's Four Freedoms sketches, and he gave Rockwell two months to complete the works. By October, the Post was worried about Rockwell's progress on the Four Freedoms and sent their art editor to Arlington to evaluate progress. At that time Rockwell was working on Freedom of Worship, his second painting in the series. Rockwell spent two months (October and most of November 1942) on this work, that was inspired by the phrase "Each according to the dictates of his own conscience." His Arlington, Vermont neighbors served as his models: Three-months pregnant with her hair upbraided Rose Hoyt posed as a Catholic with a rosary, even though she wasn't. By one account she was actually Protestant, while by another account she was Episcopalian. Other models were Mrs. Harrington, Walter Squires (Rockwell's carpenter), Clara Squires (Walter's wife — at the right-hand edge), Winfield Secoy, and Jim Martin (center). His final version relied on more subtle visual clues, including a rosary and the Koran. The work even had dark-skinned black worshipers juxtaposed on the edges. This placement didn't rock the boat with The Post who had not yet featured blacks prominently on its pages. Rockwell made these ethnics palatable by "'furtively' painting the face of the black woman at the top; the man at the bottom, with his fez, was too obviously foreign to offend." The image is commonly enhanced and often darkened in reproduction because it uses a color combination of soft greys, beiges and browns. In addition, the paint was applied thinly, which allows the weave of the canvas to contribute to the image.
Rockwell has stated that he feels hands are second only to heads in importance to the expression of a story. He noted that in Freedom of Worship "I depended on the hands alone to convey about half of the message I wish to put over." Rockwell's extensive effort on this work was due to his belief that religion "is an extremely delicate subject. It is so easy to hurt so many people's feelings."
Post editor Ben Hibbs said of Speech and Worship "To me they are great human documents in the form of paint and canvas. A great picture, I think is one which moves and inspires millions of people. The Four Freedoms did — do so." Walt Disney wrote "I thought your Four Freedoms were great. I especially loved the Freedom of Worship and the composition and symbolism expressed in it. It appealed to me very much." Rockwell believed that Freedom of Worship and Freedom of Speech were his better results in the series. A theory on the inspirational phrase "Each according to the dictates of his own conscience" is that it is a "platitude that suggests the plurality of Rockwell's own thoughts on religion: its likely source was a phrase included in the Thirteen Articles of Faith by Joseph Smith." In fact, Rockwell, repeatedly asked colleagues about possible sources of his quote and was not told about Smith's writing until after his work the series was published.
Critical review of this painting describes disappointment of the universality of the Freedom of Religion, which is disconcerting to practitioners of particular faiths. Claridge feels that "the tight amalgam of faces ... and even the crepey skin on elderly hands, which have become the objects of worship, push the theme over the edge from idealistic tolerance into gooey sentiment, where human differences seem caught up in a magical moment of dispensation from the Light. The restraint demanded by art that deals with heightened emotion is lacking." She noted that the earlier version was "clean, impressively sparse, in counterpoise to a dense narrative content. Beautifully painted even at the preliminary oil sketch stage." Murray and McCabe note that the work is a divergence from the "storytelling style" that Rockwell is known for.
The painting is considered the least satisfactory of the series by some because it is so congested and somewhat "didactic". Others attack the scale of the picture that only shows heads and hands in prayer as disruptive. Bruce Cole of The Wall Street Journal noted that Rockwell's "depiction of spectral close-up faces and hands raised in prayer is bland, without any real message about religious freedom—again, no wallop. This is because faith, like the absence of fear and the absence of want, is essentially private, something personal, intangible and unpicturable."
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