With his celebrated “Four Freedoms” paintings, Norman Rockwell helped to galvanize a nation tested by the tribulations of World War II.
Now, the public will get a chance to consider the works anew. The paintings will be the focus of a multi-year exhibition organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the museum announced last week.
The tour will launch in summer 2018 at the New York Historical Society and move to cities across the United States before concluding in Normandy, France, in autumn 2020.
The paintings “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom from Fear,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom to Worship” were inspired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address.
The year 2018 will mark the 75th anniversary of the paintings’ completion. The museum has been working on this exhibition for three years, said spokesman Jeremy Clowe.
Clowe described how the paintings continue to be relevant. “Obviously, Rockwell is a classic American artist, but I think it’s more than that,’’ he said. “We as Americans cherish our freedom, and the country coming together to defend [that freedom] still resonates even 75 years later.”
The exhibition is titled “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms.” It will also include historical documents, artifacts, and contemporary depictions of the freedoms. In his speech, delivered less than a year before the United States was thrust into war, Roosevelt gave voice to the values of democracy that he believed were worth defending.
“At that time, the United States was very much against getting involved in World War II,” said Paul Sparrow, director of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. “So this speech really was an attempt by Roosevelt to convince the American people that they should take a larger role in the war.”
The paintings were unveiled in 1943 as a way to reaffirm to the American people that they were fighting for these universal ideals and human rights, Sparrow said.
“[The four freedoms] were meant to get at the heart of what it meant to be an American,” he said. “They were meant to be four essential pieces of democracy, parts you couldn’t survive without.”
Americans in a time of intense political divisions could find inspiration in the paintings.
I think it’s always important to remember the ideals that made us a beacon of hope around the world,” Sparrow said.Andrew Grant can be reached at email@example.com.