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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

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 Delano Roosevelt,
excerpted from the Annual Message to the Congress,
January 6, 1941

Inspiration by Franklin Roosevelt... Illustration by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell was inspired to paint The Four Freedoms series by Franklin Roosevelt's speech of the same name.

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.

Freedom of Speech
was written by Booth Tarkington(1869-1946.) At that time, Tarkington was called the "dean of popular American letters." He was a frequent contributor of short stories and serials to The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines.

Tarkington's works are too numerous to mention them all. He was best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams.

Booth Tarkington was also an illustrator in his own right. He illustrated many of his own books. He also illustrated the books of other authors. As a coincidental relationship to Rockwell, Tarkington also illustrated a 1933 reprint of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Norman Rockwell Freedom of Speech -1943

Norman Rockwell's
Freedom of Speech
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Freedom to Worship
was written by essayist Will Durant(1885-1981.) Durant was one of the foremost philosophers and civil rights advocates of the time. As a former Catholic seminarian, Durant had a unique perspective on Freedom to Worship.

Together with his wife Ariel, Will Durant spent over fifty years researching and writing about human behavior in the critically acclaimed eleven-volume series, The Story of Civilization.

His first book, The Story of Philosophy (1926), is credited as the book that introduced more people to the subject of philosophy than any other book before or since. He penned numerous other books that explored the deeper meaning to humanity's existence and advocated a more civilized approach to living and dealing with one another.

Norman Rockwell Freedom to Worship -1943

Norman Rockwell's
Freedom to Worship
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Freedom from Want was written by Philippine immigrant, poet and author, Carlos Bulosan(1913-1956.) His first fiction book, The Laughter of My Father, a collection of short stories inspired by Philippine folk tales and published in 1944, became an international best-seller.

Also published in 1943 was his autobiographical book, America Is in the Heart. That book describes details of his childhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America in 1930 and the years he spent as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West.

Bulosan was, at the time of publication, and probably still is the least well-known of the essayists. His works have often been used to demonstrate how brutal racism can be.

Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want -1943

Norman Rockwell's
Freedom from Want
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Freedom from Fear
was written by Stephen Vincent BenĂ©t(1898-1943), a novelist and poet. Benét's well known works include John Brown's Body from 1928 and American Names. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for John Brown's Body. Benét also wrote the short stories, The Devil and Daniel Webster and By the Waters of Babylon.

He also adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story, The Sobbin' Women, The Sobbin' Women was, in turn, later adapted into the movie musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in 1954.

A very odd coincidence is that Stephen Vincent Benét died at age 44 on the same day that this story was published. Thus it was probably one of his last published works.

Norman Rockwell Freedom from Fear -1943

Norman Rockwell's
Freedom from Fear
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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.



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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.

More at BrainyQuote.

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