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Norman Rockwell’s Turkey Feast Is a Thanksgiving Touchstone—Here Are 3 Things You Might Not Know About ‘Freedom From Want’

The Quintessential Thanksgiving Painting with a Twist

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” stands as one of the most renowned and parodied artworks of the 20th century. While its name may elude many, the image itself remains deeply ingrained in our collective memory, particularly during Thanksgiving celebrations.

Unveiling the Family Behind the Table

Published in the March 6, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, this iconic painting portrays a white, middle-class family gathered around a meticulously arranged dinner table. Rockwell, known for his attention to detail, photographed and painted each member of his cast individually, even though they never sat together in reality. Interestingly, the artist’s wife takes her place on the left side of the table, while the elderly matriarch serving the turkey is modeled after the family cook, Mrs. Thaddeus Wheaton, who actually prepared the meal used for the painting (Rockwell humorously admitted to later devouring that same turkey).

A Divided Perception

Opinions on this famous image are polarized. While critics dismiss it as kitsch, Rockwell himself once claimed it lacked impact. However, there is a significant number of admirers who treasure this masterpiece. In fact, his biographer, Deborah Solomon, regards the luminous canvas as “one of the most ambitious plays of white-against-white since Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1.”

3 Fascinating Gems Often Overlooked

Despite its familiarity, “Freedom From Want” harbors hidden details that escape our notice. This Thanksgiving, let’s explore three intriguing facts that will undoubtedly alter your perspective on this extraordinary painting.

1) The Military’s Dramatic Shift of Opinion

Rockwell’s idyllic scene is part of a series called “Four Freedoms,” inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address. While the public embraced the artwork wholeheartedly, the military initially rejected it outright. The Office of War Information (OWI) dismissed Rockwell’s initial proposal, favoring “real artists” over illustrators. However, Saturday Evening Post editor Ben Hibbs recognized its appeal, leading to its eventual popularity and even its use in a war bond campaign that raised over $132 million.

2) Diverse Reactions to Abundance

While Americans embraced the abundant depiction of the Thanksgiving feast, Rockwell’s work received mixed reactions from Europeans enduring wartime hardship. The Europeans perceived the painting as an ostentatious display of overabundance rather than a representation of “Freedom From Want.” Interestingly, even before its success, Rockwell himself had concerns about the painting’s tone. The accompanying essay, penned by Filipino immigrant Carlos Bulosan, addressed the struggles and violence faced by Asian immigrants. Yet, Rockwell’s editor convinced him to proceed, marking a departure from strict visual-textual cohesion in favor of thematic correlation.

3) Nodding to Artistic Tradition

Despite the military’s initial dismissal, Rockwell’s artistic prowess shines through in “Freedom From Want.” Like Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” the central figures in Rockwell’s painting are framed by a window, directing the viewer’s attention towards them. The folds in the humble tablecloth echo those seen in Christ’s tablecloth in Leonardo’s masterpiece. Moreover, the Last Supper’s theme of figures absorbed in their own thoughts and conversations is mirrored in Rockwell’s painting, capturing the family’s preoccupation with everything but the turkey being served. Furthermore, the inclusion of Rockwell’s neighbor, Jim Martin, gazing out from the canvas, pays homage to Renaissance art traditions that invited viewers into the composition.

Unlock the Secrets of “Freedom From Want”

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” captivates us with its rich tapestry of stories. Beyond its immediate charm, this iconic painting carries subtle nuances and historical echoes that enhance its significance. So, as you gather with loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, take a moment to uncover the hidden gems within this timeless masterpiece.

Artwork: “Freedom From Want” by Norman Rockwell

Alexia Young

Hello and welcome to the world of Alexia. I am a passionate and dedicated artist who loves to create beautiful, mesmerizing art for everyone's walls. I believe in the importance of encouraging people to express their creativity and be happy.

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