“The Four Freedoms” by Norman Rockwell
The Four Freedoms is a series of four paintings by Norman Rockwell that depict the four freedoms referred to by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address. Roosevelt’s speech identified four fundamental human rights that should be universally protected.
Roosevelt delivered his speech 11 months before the Japanese attack on U.S. forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The speech before Congress was mainly about the national security of the United States and the threat to democracies from autocratic leaders.
The theme of the “Four Freedoms” was later incorporated into the Atlantic Charter and became part of the charter of the United Nations.
Norman Rockwell’s paintings were reproduced in “The Saturday Evening Post” over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside an essay by philosopher Will Durant and others.
The paintings became the highlight of a touring exhibition by the U.S. Department of the Treasury that accompanied a sales drive of War Bonds raised over $132 million.
The paintings represent:
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedom of Worship
- Freedom from Want
- Freedom from Fear
Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell
The “Freedom of Speech” was the first of the Four Freedoms paintings by Norman Rockwell that were inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address.
The painting depicts a scene of a local town meeting in which there is a lone dissenter to the town’s announced plans, but he is accorded the floor as a matter of protocol and freedom of speech.
The blue-collar speaker wears a plaid shirt and a suede jacket. He has dirty hands and a darker complexion than others in attendance. The other attendees appear to be older and more formally dressed.
The speaker is shown standing straight, mouth open, eyes transfixed, speaking passionately. The man is depicted in a way that resembles Abraham Lincoln, and the audience is listening with attention to this lone speaker.
“The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.”
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell
The “Freedom of Worship” is the second of the Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell and shows the profiles of eight heads overlapping and close together. The figures represent people of different faiths in a moment of prayer.
The three figures on the bottom row show a man with his head covered carrying a religious book who is Jewish, an older woman who is Protestant, and a younger woman with a well-lit face holding rosary beads who is Catholic.
Rockwell considered this painting and “Freedom of Speech” the most successful of the series. “Freedom of Worship” was published in The Saturday Evening Post alongside an essay by philosopher Will Durant in 1943.
At the time, Durant was working on his ten-volume “The Story of Civilization,” coauthored with his wife, Ariel Durant.
“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell
The “Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell is also known as “The Thanksgiving Picture” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and is the third of the “Four Freedoms” series of four paintings.
The painting depicts people gathered around a dinner table for a holiday meal. It was created in 1942 and had since then become an iconic representation for Americans in family holiday gatherings.
The people in the picture were friends and family of Rockwell in Arlington, Vermont. They were photographed individually and then painted into the scene.
The painting has had a wide array of adaptations and parodies. Artistically, the work is highly regarded as an example of the challenges of white-on-white painting and as one of Rockwell’s most famous works.
“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.”
—Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address
Freedom from Fear by Norman Rockwell
“Freedom from Fear” by Norman Rockwell was the fourth of the “Four Freedoms” paintings produced for the series of images.
The painting shows two children sleeping safely in their beds, as their parents look on. Their mother tucks them in, while their father holds a newspaper describing the horrors of the ongoing conflict during World War II.
The father is holding his glasses, together with the newspaper, which has a headline reads “Bombings Ki … Horror Hit”, referencing the Blitz in London.
It was painted during the bombing of London and reflected the feeling of security in the United States, and knowing they will not be killed in the night.
“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.”
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Engraving of the Four Freedoms at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.
In the second half of his speech, Roosevelt lists the benefits of democracy, including economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of “adequate health care.”
“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
Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978) was an American painter and illustrator whose works achieved broad popular appeal in their reflection of American culture.
Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life that he created for “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine over nearly five decades.
After “The Saturday Evening Post” published the “Four Freedoms’ series, it received millions of reprint requests.
The Four Freedoms were issued as posters by the United States Government Printing Office and as postage stamps by the United States Postal Service. By the end of the war, four million posters had been printed.
Rockwell noted that the series took an emotional toll on him, saying the works were
“serious paintings which sucked the energy right out of me like dredges, leaving me dazed and thoroughly weary.”
These are his best-known works and became some of the most widely distributed American paintings. At one time, they were commonly displayed in post offices, schools, clubs, railroad stations, and a variety of public buildings.
Art critics reviews of these images, like most of Rockwell’s work, were not entirely positive. Rockwell’s idyllic and nostalgic approach to regionalism made him a famous illustrator but a lightly regarded fine artist during his lifetime.
- Title: Four Freedoms
- Artist: Norman Rockwell
- City: Stockbridge, Massachusetts
- Year: 1943
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 45.75 by 35.5 inches (116.2 cm × 90.2 cm)
- Museum: Norman Rockwell Museum
- Artist: Norman Percevel Rockwell
- Born: 1894, New York City, New York, U.S.
- Died: 1978 (aged 84), Stockbridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
- Nationality: American
- State: Massachusetts
- Country: United States
- Notable works:
Norman Rockwell & the Four Freedoms
New York Museums – Virtual Tours
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art or MET
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- Intrepid, Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Neue Galerie New York
- The Cloisters
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- American Museum of Natural History
- Museum of the City of New York
- New-York Historical Society
- Frick Collection
- Met Breuer
- Rubin Museum of Art
- Brooklyn Museum
Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms”
Washington, D.C. Museums – Virtual Tours
- National Gallery of Art
- National Museum of American History
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Portrait Gallery
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- The Phillips Collection
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- International Spy Museum
Norman Rockwell’s Political Art
Museums in Boston, Massachusetts
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
- Harvard Art Museums
- Freedom Trail
- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
- USS Constitution
- Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard
Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms
Museums in Massachusetts
Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms
Roosevelt & Rockwell: Re-imagining the Four Freedoms
“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.”
– Norman Rockwell
Photo Credit: Norman Rockwell / Public domain; The Saturday Evening Post / Public domain; No machine-readable author provided. BanyanTree assumed (based on copyright claims). / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)