The Four Freedoms

po_Rockwell-Norman5The Four Freedoms is a series of four oil paintings produced in 1943 by the American artist Norman Rockwell.

The paintings—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The series, now in the Norman Rockwell Museum, was made for reproduction in the Saturday Evening Post (The Post) over the course of four consecutive weeks in 1943 alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. Later they were the highlight of a touring exhibition sponsored by The Post and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The touring exhibition and accompanying sales drives raised over $132 million in the sale of war bonds.

The Four Freedoms theme was derived from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s January 1941 State of the Union Address. During the speech Roosevelt identified four essential human rights—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear—that should be universally protected. The theme was incorporated into the Atlantic Charter, and it became part of the charter of the United Nations.

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

This series has been regarded as the cornerstone of retrospective art exhibits presenting the career of Rockwell, who was the most widely known commercial artist of the mid 20th century, but who failed to achieve critical acclaim commensurate with his popularity.These are perhaps Rockwell’s best-known works of art, and they were the most widely distributed paintings ever produced by some accounts. At one time they were commonly displayed in post offices, schools, clubs, railroad stations, and a variety of public and semi-public buildings.

Critical review of these images, like most of Rockwell’s work, has not been entirely positive. Rockwell’s idyllic and nostalgic approach to regionalism made him a popular illustrator but a lightly regarded fine artist during his lifetime. This view still generally prevails today. However, he has created a niche in the enduring social fabric with the Freedom from Want image which is emblematic of what is now known as the “Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving”.