“Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms” Exhibition

The New-York Historical Society

poster for “Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms” Exhibition

This event has ended.

A new major exhibition exploring the evolution of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms from a series of illustrations into a national movement debuts at the New-York Historical Society this spring as part of an international seven-city tour. Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, on view at New-York Historical, showcases Rockwell’s depictions of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want. Organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA—where the tour culminates in 2020 after traveling to five additional U.S. venues as well as Normandy, France—the exhibition illuminates the historical context for these now-iconic images and examines how Rockwell’s 1943 paintings united the public behind Roosevelt’s call for the defense of universal rights.

“Norman Rockwell’s iconic images remind us of the significant role his work played in inspiring Americans to embrace Roosevelt’s call to protect freedom around the world,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “At the same time, Rockwell’s art underscores the enduring importance of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. What Rockwell and Roosevelt identified as central to human dignity in the era of World War II is equally valid today. We are honored to convey this message to our visitors, and to be the first venue on the Norman Rockwell Museum’s illustrious tour.”

“The Norman Rockwell Museum conceived of Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms both to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Freedoms and to tell the story of how Norman Rockwell’s paintings came to be among the most enduring images in the history of American art,” said Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt. “The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view the Four Freedoms together, outside their permanent home in Stockbridge. As the steward of Rockwell’s legacy, we are thrilled to launch the exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, whose remarkable work explores the relevance of historic events to our lives today.”

Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms is co‐curated by Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, deputy director and chief curator, Norman Rockwell Museum, and James J. Kimble, Ph.D., associate professor of communication & the arts, Seton Hall University. The New-York Historical Society presentation is coordinated by Wendy Ikemoto, associate curator of American art. Additionally, a National Advisory Board comprising scholars, artists, and museum professionals has provided guidance and expertise for the exhibition.

Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, which is organized into five thematic sections, features paintings, drawings, and other original artworks by Rockwell and his contemporaries, as well as historical documents, photographs, videos, artifacts, interactive digital displays, and immersive settings, some with virtual reality elements.

The exhibition opens with The War Generation, a look at the political and socio‐economic backdrop against which President Roosevelt articulated the Four Freedoms. An immersive environment greets visitors with radio clips and film footage from the era, recreating a 1940s living room. A recording of one of Roosevelt’s famous Fireside Chats from April 14, 1938, as well as newsreels and photographs, document the challenges of the Great Depression and the ominous threat of war in Europe and Asia. Also on view are Rockwell’s iconic 1943 artworks Rosie the Riveter—the painting’s only stop on the traveling tour—and Liberty Girl, depicting the important role that American women played during wartime, as well as a selection of J. C. Leyendecker’s increasingly bleak Baby New Year covers for The Saturday Evening Post from 1932–1943.

The second section of the show, FDR’s Freedoms, explores Roosevelt’s proclamation of the Four Freedoms as reasons to enter World War II. Representations of Roosevelt’s handwritten drafts of his 1941 address to Congress, with the idea of the Four Freedoms making its appearance in the fourth version, are on view along with promotional items such as posters, pamphlets, and other ephemera—none of which were able to rally the nation behind the war. This section also includes drawings and published illustrations by Rockwell, such as depictions of the fictional wartime G.I. Willie Gillis.

The third section of the exhibition, Artistic Response to the Four Freedoms Ideals, documents the government’s efforts to promote the ideals to the public by encouraging artists to interpret Roosevelt’s Freedoms, such as stamps in the style of medieval manuscript illuminations by Arthur Szyk. Also on view are propaganda posters, including some by Social Realist artist Ben Shahn, magazine illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff, and Post covers by Mead Schaeffer intended to gain support for the military and the war effort.

The fourth section, Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, explores how the artist’s four paintings—which appeared in sequential issues of the Saturday Evening Post in February and March 1943—came to be embraced by millions. After attending a local town hall meeting at which a man stood up to voice an unpopular view, Rockwell decided to translate the president’s lofty ideals into relatable scenes from daily life. The now-iconic images feature a man speaking up in a town meeting (Freedom of Speech), a group of people of diverse faiths at prayer (Freedom of Worship), a family gathered at the Thanksgiving table (Freedom from Want), and parents tucking their children into bed (Freedom from Fear). In April 1943, the paintings went on a 16‐city tour to promote the sale of war bonds, reaching 1.2 million people and yielding $132 million in sales. In addition to the original paintings, studies for the series, letters from prominent figures and average Americans, posters, photographs, and ephemera from the tour are on view.

The exhibition concludes with Freedom’s Legacy, highlighting Rockwell’s ongoing focus on human rights and the commonality of mankind. Rockwell envisioned creating a complex composition for the United Nations—which had adopted Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms into its constitution—that would portray members of the Security Council and more than 50 people representing the nations and cultures of the world; a study for this unrealized work and a related painting, Golden Rule (1961), is on view. Also on display are powerful works addressing civil rights, such as The Problem We All Live With (1963), inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School, as well as Murder in Mississippi (1965), depicting the deaths of civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney.

Enhancing the exhibition are a variety of interactive and digital elements. Using Virtual Reality technology, visitors can “jump” into each of Rockwell’s Four Freedom paintings to explore a 1940s house on the American home front (Freedom from Fear), discover Rockwell’s influence on American culture (Freedom from Want), better understand the artist’s process in taking abstract ideas and turning them into images the public could understand and embrace (Freedom of Worship), and attend the Town Meeting depicted in the painting and the civic engagement it inspired (Freedom of Speech). Visitors can virtually turn the pages of the magazine issues in which Rockwell’s Four Freedoms appeared to see the articles, cartoons, and advertisements from 1943. The video Creating Rockwell’s Four Freedoms/War Bonds Show features vintage footage captured by Paramount Pictures and showcases the traveling War Bonds show.



from May 25, 2018 to September 02, 2018

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