Four Freedoms (Norman Rockwell)
Norman Rockwell Museum
Stockbridge, Massachusetts United States
(4 canvas series displayed by date of publication)
The Four Freedoms or Four Essential Human Freedoms is a series of four oil paintings produced in 1943 by the American artist Norman Rockwell. The paintings are approximately equal in dimension with measurements of 45.75 inches (116.2 cm) × 35.5 inches (90 cm). The series, now in the Norman Rockwell Museum, was made for reproduction in The Saturday Evening Post over the course of four consecutive weeks in 1943 alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. Later they were the highlight of a touring exhibition sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post and the United States Department of the Treasury. The touring exhibition and accompanying sales drives raised over US$132 billion in the sale of war bonds.
The Four Freedoms theme was derived from the 1941 State of the Union Address by United States President Franklin Roosevelt delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941. During the speech he identified four essential human rights (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom From Want and Freedom From Fear) that should be universally protected.
The theme was incorporated into the Atlantic Charter, and it became part of the charter of the United Nations. Roosevelt's message was as follows: "In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms."
This series is a cornerstone of a retrospective of the career of Rockwell, who was the most widely known contemporary commercial artist of the mid 20th century, but who failed to achieve critical acclaim commensurate with his popularity. These are perhaps Rockwell's most well-known works of art, and they were the most widely distributed paintings ever produced by some accounts. At one time they were commonly displayed in post offices, schools, clubs, railroad stations, and a variety of public and semi-public buildings. Critical review of these images, like most of Rockwell's work, has not been entirely positive. Rockwell's idyllic and nostalgic approach to regionalism made him a popular illustrator but a lightly regarded fine artist during his lifetime. These paintings generally are viewed with this sentiment. However, he has created a niche in the enduring social fabric with the Freedom from Want image which is emblematic of what is now known as the "Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving".
Rockwell and World War II
From 1916 through his Kennedy Memorial cover on December 16, 1963, Rockwell created 321 magazine covers for The Saturday Evening Post, which was the most popular American magazine of the first half of the 20th century. In a preelectronic era where mass production magazine color illustration was the most popular form of media, Rockwell became a national name, who by the 1950s was rivaled only by Walt Disney for his familiarity to the public among visual artists. Rockwell illustrated American life during World War I and World War II in 34 of his cover illustrations, and he illustrated 33 Post covers during World War II. During much of the first half of the 1940s, Rockwell's cover illustrations focused on the human side of the war.
Rockwell encouraged support for the war efforts during World War II via his covers which endorsed war bonds, encouraged women to work, and encouraged men to enlist in the service. His World War II illustrations used themes of patriotism, longing, shifting gender roles, reunion, love, work, community and family during wartime to promote the war. In his role as a magazine illustrator during times of war, Rockwell draws comparisons to Winslow Homer, an American Civil War illustrator for Harper's Weekly. These four Rockwell artistic expressions were said to have led to the adoption of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms as a goal.
Rockwell made numerous artistic contributions to the war efforts in addition to the Four Freedoms. He is widely known for his idealized fictional wartime characters Willie Gillis and his depiction of Rosie the Riveter and some of his other war art is known by name such as War News and Homecoming Soldier. He was responsible for encouraging individual monetary support of the war through emotional posters like Hasten the Homecoming, 1943.
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Throughout his political career Roosevelt championed the cause of human rights. In his Annual Message to Congress of January 6, 1941, which was delivered at a time when Nazi powers ruled over Western Europe, he asked the American citizens to support war efforts in various ways. He stated his vision of a better future, founded upon four freedoms: the "four essential human freedoms," some traditional and some new ones: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt's State of the Union Address delivered on January 6, 1941, became known as his "Four Freedoms Speech", due to its conclusion that described President's vision of worldwide extension of the American ideals of individual liberties summarized by these four freedoms. The speech served to awaken Congress and the nation to the dire war calling, articulate ideological aims of the necessary armed conflict and appeal to the universal American belief of freedom. The following passage is from Roosevelt's speech:
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
In 1941 the United States Government had three agencies responsible for war propaganda: The Office of Facts and Figures (OFF), The Division of Information of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and Office of Government Reports (OGR). The OFF was responsible for commissioned artwork and for assembling a corps of writers, led by Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish. By mid-1942, the Office of War Information determined that despite the efforts of OFF in distributing pamphlets, posters, displays and other media, only a third of the general public was familiar with Roosevelt's four freedoms and at most one in fifty could enumerate them. The four freedoms had been a "campaign to educate Americans about participation in World War II".
Rockwell remembered a scene of a local town meeting in which one person spoke out in lone dissent, but was accorded the floor as a matter of protocol. A vision struck him to depict this scene to represent Freedom of Speech, and then in 1942 Rockwell decided to use his Vermont neighbors as models for an inspirational set of posters depicting the themes laid out by Roosevelt the previous year in a Four Freedoms series. He spent three days making charcoal sketches of the series, and the series took seven months to create. Models included a Mrs. Harrington who became the devout old woman in Freedom of Worship and a man named Jim Martin who appears in each painting in the series. The intention was to remind America what they were fighting for: freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear. All of the paintings used a muted palette and are devoid of the use of vermilion that Rockwell is known for.
Rockwell's patriotic gesture was to travel to Washington, D.C. and volunteer his free services to the government for this cause. As Rockwell bounced from one government office to the next he received no indication of interest by the government. In fact, the Office of War Information told him that poster art like that used in World War I was not welcome because the government intended to use real artists instead this time. Rockwell returned to the Saturday Evening Post and got an enthusiastic response from editor Ben Hibbs to publish his designs. Some sources published after Rockwell's death question whether the government was truly as discouraging as Rockwell claimed. They cite an encouraging April 23, 1943 correspondence with Thomas D. Mabry of the Office of War Information (a former Executive Director of the Museum of Modern Art). At the time, the three government propaganda agencies were disjointed, and they were not unified under the Office of War Information (OWI) until June 13, 1945 by a Presidential Executive Order. Furthermore, the writers division, led by MacLeish, was under pressure for failing to deliver a message intelligible to people of varying intelligence. There was also significant turmoil in the OWI because a faction had supported work by Ben Shahn, but Shahn's work would not be used extensively for propaganda because it lacked general appeal.
Upon publication The Saturday Evening Post received millions of reprint requests. Rockwell's version of the story is that only after the public demanded reprints did the Office of War Information get involved by producing 2.5 million sets of Four Freedoms posters, By the end of the war, 4 million posters had been printed. Both the Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Want posters had the leading caption "ours. . .to fight for" and the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship had the leading caption "Buy War Bonds" and the word "Save" before the respective freedom. There is also a 1946 lithograph version of the 1943 paintings with all four paintings under the heading "ours. . .to fight for".
Between 1941 and 1946, the United States Department of the Treasury conducted eight War Loan Drives to promote the sale of war Bonds to finance America's World War II efforts. The government used several forms of solicitation, advertising and marketing, such as aircraft carrier exhibits as well as direct appeal from all the five-star generals and admirals (George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Jackson D. Arnold, Ernest King, Chester W. Nimitz and William D. Leahy) in the Seventh War Loan Drive, or a commemorative bond image of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Eighth War Loan Drive. The marketing attempts were quite varied even within a single War Loan Drive. In 1943, the Saturday Evening Post donated the Four Freedoms to the Second War Loan Drive. Rockwell's Four Freedoms Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear were first published on February 20, February 27, March 6 and March 13, 1943 along with commissioned essays from leading American writers and historians (Booth Tarkington, Will Durant, Carlos Bulosan, and Stephen Vincent Benét, respectively). They measured 45.75 inches (116.2 cm) × 35.5 inches (90 cm) except Freedom of Worship which measures 46.0 inches (116.8 cm) × 35.5 inches (90 cm). After publication of the Rockwell works and subsequent demand for reprints, a tour was planned highlighting the popular paintings as a marketing device for the sale of War Bonds. During the subsequent 16-city tour, which included various celebrities, public officials, and entertainers, approximately 1.2 million people throughout the United States viewed the paintings, which helped to raise $132 billion ($18.533 billion for the Second Loan Drive alone) for the war effort though the sale of war bonds. According to The New Yorker in 1945, the Four Freedoms "were received by the public with more enthusiasm, perhaps, than any other paintings in the history of American art". Rockwell is widely credited with contributing to the success of the war effort.
The Four Freedoms were reproduced in posters by the United States Government Printing Office and on postage stamps by the United States Postal Service. The stamps are not to be confused with the February 12, 1943 one-cent Four Freedoms Postage Stamp Issue by another artist. The Rockwell versions were issued in a set of four fifty-cent stamps in 1994, the 100th anniversary of Rockwell's birth. Freedom from Want was included as the cover image of the 1946 book Norman Rockwell, Illustrator that was written when Rockwell was "at the height of his fame as America's most popular illustrator". By 1972, this 1946 publication was in its seventh printing. Although the paintings were originally intimately connected to Roosevelt and the American cause in World War II, the paintings have now developed an independent iconic identity in textbooks and on ties as well as in the cultural and social fabric. Eventually, 25 million people bought Rockwell's Four Freedoms prints by the end of the 20th century.
Rockwell is considered the "quintessential middlebrow American artist". As an artist he is an illustrator rather than a fine arts painter. Although his style is painterly, his work is produced for the purpose of mass reproduction, and it is produced with the intent of delivering a common message to its viewers via a detailed narrative style. Furthermore, the vast majority of Rockwell's work was viewed in reproduced format and almost none of his contemporaneous audience ever saw his original work. Also, Rockwell's style of backwoods New England small-town realism, known as regionalism, was sometimes viewed as out of step with the oncoming wave of abstract modern art. Some say his realism is so direct that he abstains from using artistic license. John Canaday, a New York Times art critic once referred to Rockwell as the "Rembrandt of Punkin' Crick" for his aversion to the vices of big city life. Dave Hickey derided Rockwell for painting without inflection. Some critics also view his sentimental and nostalgic vision out of step with the harsh realities of American life, such as The Great Depression. Some have summarized this combination by saying that Rockwell's Four Freedoms lack artistic maturity. Others point to the universality of the Freedom of Religion as disconcerting to practitioners of particular faiths. Others complained that he idealized American life because by depicting wholesome, healthy, and happy sentiments Rockwell depicted the good that was remembered or wished for, but by avoiding misery, poverty, and social unrest, he failed to demonstrate command of the bad and the ugly parts of American life. Rockwell's response to this criticism was, "I paint life as I would like it to be."
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 idyllic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving work as important a place in the enduring marketplace of promoting family togetherness, peace and plenty as Hallmark at Christmas.
The commercial success of the series is in part because each painting is considered to be a model of understandable art by the general public. The success of Rockwell's depictions was due to his use of long-standing American cultural values about unity and respect of certain institutions while using symbols that enabled a broad audience to identify with his images. This understandability made it one extreme on the scale of artistic complexity when comparing the series to contemporaneous art. It was diametrically opposed to abstract art and far removed from the intrigue of surrealism.
In 1999, the High Museum of Art and the Norman Rockwell Museum produced the first comprehensive exhibition of Rockwell's career that started at the High Museum on November 6, 1999, stopped at the Chicago Historical Society, Corcoran Gallery of Art, San Diego Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum, and Norman Rockwell Museum before concluding at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on February 11, 2002. Although there has been a long history of Rockwell detractors, during this Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People touring exhibition attendance was record-setting and critical reviews were quite favorable. The nostalgia seemed to cause a bit of revisionism in the artworld, according to The New York Times which said, "What's odd is the show's enthusiastic reception by the art world, which in a lather of revisionism is falling all over itself to embrace what it once reviled: the comfy, folksy narrative visions of a self-deprecating illustrator..."
Norman Rockwell, who would live until 1978, bequeathed his personal collection in trust to the Norman Rockwell Museum in 1973 for the "advancement of art appreciation and art education". This collection included the Four Freedoms paintings. In 1993, when the Rockwell Museum moved from its original location, the Four Freedoms were displayed in the new museum's central gallery. The Four Freedoms remain in the collection of the Museum.
The Four Freedoms were widely exhibited as part of the sixteen-city Second War Loan Drive in 1943 and have subsequently been part of other tours and exhibitions. They were a highlight of the first comprehensive Rockwell touring exhibition, entitled Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, which was a seven-city tour that ran from November 1999 until February 2002. They returned to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which had been part of the Pictures for the American People tour, for an exhibition in association with the National World War II Memorial grand opening in 2004.
In addition to being included in various tours, the Four Freedoms were the subject of a 144-page book in 1993, the fiftieth anniversary of their production. The book is a very detailed account of the history of the Four Freedoms. It starts with Roosevelt's inspiration for the painting series and their publication. Then it describes the tour, which began at Hecht's Department Store in Washington, D.C. with Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas speaking. It includes various appendices, such as the four essays (by Tarkington, Durant, Bulosan, and Benet) that accompanied the original publication in The Saturday Evening Post and the essay that accompanied the government printing as well as original essays for the book.
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