Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms
The Saturday Evening Post - February 20 to March 13, 1943
Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms series was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 during the height of World War II.
The Post published the paintings as a series after the United States government declined it.
Seeing the huge success of The Post articles, the United States government changed its mind about Rockwell's creations. Soon afterward, the Office of War Information later issued the series as posters as an incentive for War bond purchasers. Many of these posters are still sold today.
Rockwell's inspiration for the series was the Four Freedoms speech given before Congress by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on January 16, 1941.
The relevant Four Freedoms portion of the speech is reproduced below.
The Four Freedoms of FDR
Inspiration by Franklin Roosevelt... Illustration by Norman Rockwell
Rockwell, knowing he was too old to serve in the military, sought to do something to help his country during World War II. He came up with the idea of illustrating Roosevelt's speech.
He labored on these paintings for 6 months in 1942. He lost 15 pounds and many nights sleep. When he was finished, he had created some of the greatest masterpieces of his entire career.
After seeking unsuccessfully to find a United States government wartime agency to sponsor these works, he turned to his old friends, The Saturday Evening Post and Curtis Publishing.
Published by the Saturday Evening Post
The first Freedom painting published was Freedom of Speech, which appeared in the February 20, 1943. The Series continued with Freedom to Worship (February 27), Freedom from Want (March 6) and concluded with Freedom from Fear on March 13, 1943.
In addition to publishing the paintings, Curtis Publishing commissioned essays to accompany the paintings in print. Each accompanying article expounded on the thoughts provoked by Rockwell's imagery.
The editors of The Post did a masterful job of finding the right author for each essay. All four author added to the message the paintings conveyed.
Then Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms made history in the publishing world. Response to the publication was so strong that over 25,000 readers ordered sets of prints from the magazine.
The Four Freedoms War Bond Show
Recognizing the demand sure to be generated, the U.S. Treasury Department, in conjunction with Curtis Publishing, organized a nationwide tour for the paintings. It was called The Four Freedoms War Bond Show.
The tour opening at Hecht's, the department store, in Washington, D.C. was radio broadcast across the nation. Lowell Thomas, a news broadcaster and future member of the Radio Hall of Fame, was master of ceremonies. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was the main speaker for the tour opening.
Reaction to the Four Freedoms Tour was overwhelming. Rockwell's four paintings apparently touched feelings deemed important by a free people. The Office of War Information (OWI), finally realizing the power of these ideas and images it had once refused, printed 2.5 million copies, each accompanied by a long OWI essay.
Rockwell received over 60,000 letters and postcards offering thanks and encouragement. Included in this number was one letter from President Roosevelt himself.
Roosevelt wrote, "I think you have done a superb job in bringing home to the plain, everyday citizen the plain, everyday truths behind the Four Freedoms... I congratulate you not alone on the execution but also for the spirit which impelled you to make this contribution to the common cause of a freer, happier world." High praise for America's favorite illustrator!
The Four Freedoms Tour took the four original paintings to sixteen American cities. Almost a million and a quarter people were able to appreciate the paintings in person. The more than $130 million dollars worth of bonds sold by the Four Freedoms Tour helped shorten World War II. The mental boost to the populace helped assure a U.S./Allies victory.
Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms Today
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Rockwell's four paintings remain almost as popular today as they were in 1943. Freedom of Speech is as recognizable and well-known as any image produced during the World War II era. It has been compared to the photograph of the Marines raising the U.S. Flag over Iwo Jima.
Back issues of The Saturday Evening Post turn up occasionally at used book stores, often at bargain prices.
These same original posters from 1943 still show up on eBay and other sites for sale today. They have often been restored to their original glory.
Today's citizens can still own and be inspired by Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms.
Remember to check back often.
Do you have a personal story about this painting? Do you know the model personally? Do you have a different take on the commentary?
Norman Rockwell Quotes:
I'll never have enough time to paint all the pictures I'd like to.
No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!
Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I've always called myself an illustrator. I'm not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.
Right from the beginning, I always strived to capture everything I saw as completely as possible.
The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they're always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.
I can take a lot of pats on the back. I love it when I get admiring letters from people. And, of course, I'd love it if the critics would notice me, too.
You must first spend some time getting your model to relax. Then you'll get a natural expression.
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