The 75th Anniversary of FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech and the Norman Rockwell Series That Commemorates It
In January of 1941, seventy-five years ago this year, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union address to the joint houses of the U.S. Congress. This speech, delivered on the eve of our entry into World War II, is remarkable for both its content and its intent. It came to be known as the “Four Freedoms Speech” and in it FDR makes his ideological case for the U.S. entry into the war, as well as his vision for a post-war world.
FDR’s vision includes global freedom of speech and freedom of worship, both of which are protected in the United States by our constitution. FDR also included freedom from want and freedom from fear, neither of which are protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution or any other U.S. Law. The Four Freedoms were later incorporated into the Atlantic Charter and eventually became a part of the Charter of the United Nations.
Norman Rockwell produced a series of oil paintings to correspond to the four freedoms mentioned in FDR’s speech. Rockwell produced the four paintings, each of which measures approximately forty-five and three-quarter inches by thirty-five and a half inches, in 1943. The Saturday Evening Post reproduced each of the paintings in its pages alongside an essay on the same subject by a prominent thinker of the time over four consecutive weeks that same year. The paintings went on a national tour to help sell war bonds.
Popular and Critical Reception
Norman Rockwell had been illustrating professionally for nearly thirty years at the time he produced the Four Freedoms series of paintings. Despite the popularity of the images with the American public, they were largely considered to be illustration rather than fine art by the nation’s art critics. This dismissal of the artist’s work corresponds with his general treatment by the critics, this despite the fact that he was arguably the most popular American artist of the twentieth century. Reproductions of the four paintings are still available as posters to this day.
Rockwell’s Enduring Legacy
Norman Rockwell passed away in 1978, but his artwork lives on in the many iconic Life Magazine and Saturday Evening Post covers he illustrated, as well as the paintings he produced. The Four Freedoms series of paintings is no exception. In fact, the Freedom from Want painting, also popularly known as Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving is emblematic of the American holiday. Though most contemporary Americans would struggle to name FDR’s four freedoms (as they did by mid-1942, before Rockwell created the paintings), the message of hope for a future of freedoms that is contained in the images Rockwell created lives on.
[Photo via: Tarpley, Mtviewmirror, ]