After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, America was soon bustling to marshal its forces on the home front as well as abroad. Norman Rockwell, already well known as an illustrator for one of the country’s most popular magazines, The Saturday Evening Post, had created the affable, gangly character of Willie Gillis for the magazine’s cover, and Post readers eagerly followed Willie as he developed from boy to man during the tenure of his imaginary military service. Rockwell considered himself the heir of the great illustrators who left their mark during World War I, and, like them, he wanted to contribute something substantial to his country.
A critical component of the World War II war effort was the creation of visual images based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s appeal to the four essential human freedoms he spoke about in
his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941—freedom of speech and expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom of worship. Yet, by the summer of 1942, two-thirds of Americans still knew nothing about the Four Freedoms, even though government agencies had disseminated photographs, prints, and even a textile design referring to them. It is unclear whether Rockwell or a member of the Office of
War Information suggested he take on the Four Freedoms. What is uncontested is that his renditions were not only vital to the war effort, but have become enshrined in American culture.
Painting the Four Freedoms was important to Rockwell for more than patriotic reasons. He hoped one of them would become his statement as an artist. Rockwell had been born into
a world in which painters crossed easily from the commercial world to that of the gallery, as Winslow Homer had done. By the 1940s, however, a division had emerged between the fine arts and the work for hire that Rockwell produced. The detailed, homespun images he employed to reach a mass audience were not appealing to an art community that now lionized intellectual and abstract works. But Rockwell knew his strengths did not lie in that direction: “Boys batting flies on vacant lots,” he explained in 1936, “little girls playing jacks on the front steps; old men plodding home at twilight, umbrella in hand—all these things arouse feeling in me.”
Rockwell’s ability to capture something universal in the commonplace is behind the success of the Four Freedoms pictures. For Freedom of Speech, the first painting he completed, the artist attempted four different compositions in which a man dressed in work clothes, the community’s “Annual Report” folded in his pocket, stands to give his opinion at a New England town meeting. In this, the final version, Rockwell depicts him from slightly below eye level, encircled by his fellow townspeople and by us, the viewers, who take our place two benches in front of him. The timeless properties of this work are the result of Rockwell’s classical sense of composition: the speaker stands at the apex of a pyramid drawn by the upward glances of his neighbors. The warm, light tones of the speaker’s skin glow against the matte black chalkboard in the background, giving him a larger-than-life, heroic appearance. The work also exudes a sense of immediacy. A snapshot effect is achieved by the inclusion of fragmented forms at the painting’s borders: the partial head of the man in the lower left and the glimpse of two faces in the right and left back corners (the one on the left is Rockwell’s own). Rockwell’s eye for detail (he used ordinary people as models and had scores of photographs made before beginning to paint in order to remind him of things as small as a folded collar) gives each inch of the painting a sense of the accidental and familiar.
In 1943, the four canvases were published in The Saturday Evening Post before being sent on a nationwide tour called the “Four Freedoms War Bond Show.” More than a million people saw them in sixteen cities and over 133 million dollars in war bonds were sold. This painting—Rockwell felt it and Freedom to Worship were the best of the four—helped galvanize the nation to action during the war. Long after that conflict, its message
continues to resonate; time has revealed that the value of the Four Freedoms series lies not simply in the ideas it presented, but in Rockwell’s exceptional ability as an artist.
May 8, 2012 PowerPoint Norman Rockwell- Freedom of Speech
I have enjoyed having all of you in my class this year. We have learned a lot and had fun as well. I have observed that all of you have made real improvement in your writing skills. Great job! Have a good summer! -Mrs. S
“And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” -James 3:18 NLT
“And the harvest of righteousness (of conformity to God’s will in thought and deed) is [the fruit of the seed] sown in peace by those who work for and make peace [in themselves and in others, that peace which means concord, agreement, and harmony between individuals, with undisturbedness, in a peaceful mind free from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts].” -James 3:18 amp