Norman Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms' hold court across Massachusetts


STOCKBRIDGE — Copies of five of Norman Rockwell's most iconic paintings are now on display at three U.S. District Courts across the state, serving as a reminder of the Rockwellian ideals for which the court stands.

High-quality canvas reproductions of Rockwell's "Four Freedoms," and a copy of "The Golden Rule" will be on display at federal courthouses in Springfield, Worcester and Boston, according to U.S. District Clerk of Courts Robert Farrell.

The "Four Freedoms," painted in 1941, are four separate paintings: "Freedom of Speech," "Freedom of Worship," "Freedom From Want" and "Freedom of Religion."

"The Golden Rule," painted in 1961, depicts a disparate group of people of various religions, ethnicities and races serving as a backdrop to the motto, "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You." Rockwell, a Stockbridge resident at the time, used several local models for the characters in the painting.

"The Four Freedoms" were painted in the wake of a Jan. 8, 1941, speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during which Roosevelt articulated the four basic freedoms guaranteed to the citizens of America.

"Rockwell was not the only artist who attempted to depict President Roosevelt's concept," said Laurie Norton Moffatt, longtime director of the Norman Rockwell Museum and one of the foremost experts on the artist. "But his paintings seemed to resonate with America."

The four separate illustrations were featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on successive weeks beginning on Feb. 20, 1943. Inside the magazine, an essay accompanied each painting.

"The ideals were conceived as a group," Moffatt said. "They were intended to be seen in a group. But I believe they are also very strong paintings individually."

Two of the paintings were taken from personal experience on Rockwell's part, Moffatt said.

"He was at a town meeting," she said. "And he saw a young man stand up who did not look like the rest of the crowd, who was dressed differently. And he spoke at the meeting, and the rest of the audience listened respectfully. That stuck in [Rockwell's] mind."

"Freedom From Want" depicted a Thanksgiving at Rockwell's home when he lived in Vermont, she said.

"Freedom From Fear," depicted a mother and father putting their children to bed, with the father holding a newspaper outlining "bombings" somewhere in the world.

The fourth painting, "Freedom of Religion" was a struggle for Rockwell, Moffatt said.

He eventually painted a montage of people, clearly of different religions, bowing their heads in prayer. The painting included an African-American woman praying with other worshippers.

"Which, in 1941, was a fairly radical thing to do," she added.

Moffatt was a guest of the state on Friday at a dedication ceremony of the paintings. Several federal judges and state officials also were on hand as the illustrations were unveiled.

"The promise of freedom and of equal justice for all, are imbued in Norman Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms' paintings," Moffatt said. "We are honored to share these inspiring images in our commonwealth courtrooms."

Additional ceremonies will be held in Springfield on Oct. 6 and in Worcester on Oct. 11, Farrell said.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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