CAEN, France — International dignitaries, including 80 members of the U.S. Congress, met Thursday with Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Moffatt in France to commemorate D-Day by viewing the artist's original "Four Freedoms" paintings in their European debut.
The exhibition, "Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms," is on display at the Caen Memorial Museum, with a public opening Friday. Since Monday, special guests from the U.S. and abroad have had early viewings.
"I've had a lot of wonderful experiences through the museum, but I think what was so moving with this is the coming together of all of the nations, all of the countries, in memory and peace," Moffatt said in a phone interview from Caen on Thursday. "They have all stayed and lingered for a long time with the paintings."
In his 1942 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Rockwell painted iconic scenes devoted to the freedoms, which were published on consecutive covers of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943. Those paintings, and works by other artists that capture expressions of freedom, will be on display at the Caen Memorial Museum for five months.
Moffatt credits the paintings with "changing the history of the world" by uniting Americans during World War II.
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the group of congress members through the exhibition before they attended a memorial ceremony commemorating D-Day.
Ruby Bridges, who was the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during New Orleans' school desegregation in 1960, was featured in one of Rockwell's paintings. Bridges, now 64, joined Moffatt in speaking this week to 300 French elementary school students about her experience.
"I think it surprised them that she had an experience like she did as a child," Moffatt said of Bridges' talk.
Daisy Rockwell, Norman Rockwell's granddaughter, and Prince Albert II of Monaco also attended the exhibition this week.
"It was great fun to have him come and bring a number of American friends and people he works with in Monaco," Moffatt said of Albert.
After the temporary exhibition — it took four years to plan — wraps up in France, it will return to Stockbridge in October before making additional stops in Houston and Denver.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.