©1943 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, Ind.
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978). Freedom of Speech, The Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943. Oil on canvas. 45 3/4 x 35 1/2 in. (116.205 x 90.170 cm.). The Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust.
The Four Freedoms paintings were inspired by a speech given before the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt enumerated four basic freedoms to which every person was entitled.
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Here is part of the speech that inspired Norman Rockwell to paint his famous Four Freedoms series of paintings (Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear):
'The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are :
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding straight of oureconomic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples :
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my budget message I will recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying for today. No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program, and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.If the congress maintains these principles the voters, putting patriotism ahead pocketbooks, will give you their applause.
In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.'
Freedom of Speech:
For inspiration for Freedom of Speech, Rockwell recalled a recent town meeting in Arlington, Vermont where he lived at that time. He remembered how his neighbor, Arlington resident Jim Edgerton, had stood up during the meeting and aired an unpopular opinion. Instead of objecting to his remarks, his fellow citizens honored Edgerton's right to speak his piece.
Rockwell decided that their respect for Edgerton's unpopular viewpoint perfectly illustrated Roosevelt's idea of Freedom of Speech.
Rockwell painted the characters as strongly contrasting.
The central figure stands above the rest. He is dressed in working clothes that have a slightly rough quality. He has a determined look on his face. In his pocket is a rolled up program for the meeting.
All eyes are on the speaker.
Seated around him are his neighbors. All are holding the same program. The men whose clothes we can see are all dressed in suits. We assume they are businessmen.
Mild disagreement crosses the face of the man on his right. He is smiling upside down. His program is clenched in his hand.
Yet no one interrupts the speaker.
Rockwell aptly captures the essential character of free speech with this painting.
This picture was also printed on Office of War Information poster OWI Poster Number 44 O-510257.
Freedom to Worship:
The painting shows eight people, four women and four men. They are all praying. Each is praying in his or her own way. Some are praying with eyes open, some with eyes closed.
They are illuminated by a soft, golden light emanating from off the left side of the canvas.
Some have their heads bowed, one is looking upward. One holds rosary beads, one holds scripture.
Catholic, Protestant and Jew are all represented in the painting. Black and white are both represented. Freedom of religion is all encompassing.
At the top of the painting, Norman Rockwell has inscribed "EACH ACCORDING TO THE DICTATES OF HIS OWN CONSCIENCE." Rockwell said that he remembered reading it somewhere, but he didn't remember exactly where.
Norman Rockwell's illustration of the right of people to worship as they choose without governmental interference was the most moving of the Four Freedoms series.
This picture was also printed on Office of War Information poster OWI Poster Number 43 O-510256.
Fredom From Want :
Examining this painting, we see a large family gathered around their table for a feast. We presume the occaison is Thanksgiving because of the huge turkey being served. Both the good china and the good silver are on the table.
Children and grandchildren, conversing happily with each other, populate the holiday table on both sides. Grandpa is at the head of the table and has his carving tools ready to slice and serve the mouth-watering bird.
Grandma is placing the turkey in its place. She is still wearing her apron, lest some succulent juices spill and ruin her dress. The turkey appears to be cooked to perfection.
The table extends past the bottom of the canvas, giving the perception that the viewer is actually at the table. The gentleman in the lower right corner of the painting seems to be inviting us to join in the feast.
Norman Rockwell's painting, in addition to invoking emotions associated with family, also induces hunger. It may be time for a sandwich. A turkey sandwich.
This picture was also printed on Office of War Information poster OWI Poster Number 45 O-511886.
Freedom from Fear:
Rockwell was worried that this painting would appear to portray smugness that American children slept safely while the children of the rest of the world lived in a battlefield. He didn't want to chance alienating our allies in the war.
Rockwell went into a lot of detail with this picture. He actually had The Bennington Banner, in Bennington, Vermont, print up
a prop newspaper with a war bombing headline. He was a real stickler for realism in his paintings.
Rockwell used his Vermont neighbors as models in this picture. The model for the father in this picture is said to appear in all four of the Four Freedoms paintings.
This painting shows a father and mother tucking their two children in at bedtime.
The children's mother carefully places their covers just right to keep them warm. She is careful not to wake them.
The father, with a concerned yet caring look look on his face, holds a newspaper and his reading glasses in one hand. The headline of the newspaper father is holding reads "Bombings K... Horror Hit..." This was published during the time that London was being bombed by Nazi Germany.
No doubt, the father is relieved that his family is not living in war-torn Europe. All the fathers in America were similarly relieved. Rockwell's painting made the parents of America more aware of their relief.
Norman Rockwell's work was usually topical to current events, and Freedom from Fear was no exception.
This picture is taken from Office of War Information poster OWI Poster Number 46 O-511887.
(Copyright ©2005-2008 Best Norman Rockwell Art.com.)
So in 1942 he painted four pictures to illustrate The Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech which shows a man standing and speaking up in a town hall meeting, Freedom to Worship which shows people praying, Fredom From Want showing a family around a Thanksgiving table, and Freedom from Fear which illustrated a couple tucking their children into bed at night. He took them to different government agencies, but they all rejected them. He took them to the Saturday Evening Post where they were printed and became some of his most famous illustrations.