The Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech
painting is one of the works from the famous Four Freedoms
series, which has become a symbol of America’s democratic aspirations and the national pride. The artist was aware of the enormous responsibility and complexity of the task chosen, three years after painting the series, Rockwell admitted in an interview with the New Yorker: “It was the job that Michelangelo had to take on.”
Rockwell intended to illustrate President F. Roosevelt’s famous 1941 speech to Congress on fundamental human rights: freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom of worship. This idea, as the artist believed, was the work of his entire life and, at the same time, his biggest challenge. Finding ideas for his paintings never came easily to Norman, and in this case, seemed almost impossible. The artist constantly thought about the president’s speech and said that his speech “sounded so damn pompous. I don’t understand how to do it.”
While Rockwell was thinking about implementing his idea, he took part in a city council meeting. During one sleepless night, an inspiration came: he remembered how one of his neighbours spoke at the council meeting and, despite the fact that no one agreed with him, he was given the opportunity to speak. Rockwell realized that it was exactly what he needed! “I suddenly remembered how Jim Edgerton stood up at the city council meeting and said something that did not please anyone present. But he was given the opportunity to speak. Nobody told him to shut up. Oh Lord, I thought. Here it is. Freedom of speech. I’ll illustrate the Four Freedoms using my Vermont neighbours as models.”
And the work began. With incredible tension, the artist worked like a man possessed for many months and lost seven kilograms. Rockwell invited Vermont residents to his studio. A friend of the artist recalled that he treated his models as guests of honour and said that the success of his paintings depended on them: “If your models feel that you are their friend, not the boss, if you make them feel like they are important for the success of your paintings, they will help you in every way.
” When city residents offered to pose for free, the artist insisted and paid his models more than other artists did. He gave $ 5 to children, $ 10 to adults. After finishing his work, he expressed his gratitude and gave everyone a sealed envelope with a cheque; the townspeople especially liked this courteous and kind gesture.
The Metropolitan Museum acquired one of the preparatory paintings for the “Freedom of Speech” from Rockwell and included it in the permanent collection of the American Art Department. The fee was nominal, $ 100, but the artist was very excited by the news. Indeed, against the background of the general love of the audience, critics ignored his work, therefore the appearance of his painting at the Met was an eloquent gesture of recognition of Norman Rockwell’s talent.
When Four Freedoms appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the artist received a massive royalty of $ 10,000 and the editors received 700,000 letters of gratitude from their readers.
The Four Freedoms illustration series by Norman Rockwell was such a phenomenal success that in 1943, the US Treasury Department announced a campaign to sell war bonds depicting Rockwell’s Four Freedoms and raised $ 133 million.Written by Iryna Olikh