Thanksgiving has long been commemorated in art and pop culture, but no artist has been able to create the nostalgic look at America’s Thanksgiving as did Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). In an era of Abstract Expressionism, Rockwell never achieved the critical stature of contemporaries like Jackson Pollock, but his familiar images have found a permanent place in the American consciousness, particularly through his iconic magazine covers. Whether poignant or comical, each of Rockwell’s paintings are meant to tell a story.
An early example is Rockwell’s painting, “Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey,” which appeared on the 1917 cover of The Country Gentleman. Rockwell painted fifteen humorous covers featuring Cousin Reginald and related characters. “Thanksgiving” was featured on the cover of Literary Digest’s November 22, 1919 issue.
Another “Thanksgiving” painting depicting a soldier home from the war sitting with his mother in the kitchen was the first of two WWII Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers that appeared in 1945.
One of Rockwell’s most famous WWII paintings, “Freedom of Want,” symbolizing the spirit of family and Thanksgiving, was part of his “Four Freedoms” series. Rockwell painted the “Four Freedoms” in 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress. They were reproduced in four consecutive issues of The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers.
Rockwell’s interpretations of “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom to Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom from Fear” proved to be enormously popular. The works toured the United States in an exhibition that was jointly sponsored by the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department, raising more than $130 million for the war effort through the sale of war bonds.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is located in the artists’ hometown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It houses the world’s largest collection of original Norman Rockwell art, including beloved paintings from The Saturday Evening Post, the “Four Freedoms,” and the best in the field of American illustration.