When you could win an Olympic gold for painting

July 30 2012

Image of When you could win an Olympic gold for painting

Picture: Olympic Museum Lausanne

Richard Conway in The Huffington Post looks at the history of the now defunct Olympic arts games:

Known collectively as the "Pentathlon of the Muses," they ran from 1912 to 1948 and saw such names as Finnish poet Aale Tynni, Dutch architect Jan Wils, and Irish painter Jack B. Yeats all compete in various years.

The pentathlon was the brainchild of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, widely recognized as the founder of the modern games. Born to an artist father and a musician mother, he felt that an internationally-focused revival of the ancient Olympics would provide an intellectual and moral compass to citizens of a rapidly industrializing world.

But this could not be achieved through sports alone. De Coubertin proposed that the complete human being needed to excel in both body and mind, in athletics and in arts. And so he shared a plan for renewed games with a committee he had put together in Paris in 1892.

[...] After a shaky start - the 1908 arts games were cancelled because of an International Olympic Committee planning delay - the first arts games went ahead in 1912.

Touted as representing the five forms of the creative intellect, these new games operated differently from the sports events. Unlike competitions where winners could be judged objectively - a swimmer who finishes first, finishes first - the arts outcomes were decided by a panel, one that needed to come to a majority decision. There were many disagreements between members, with some wondering if competitiveness and artistic endeavor were not mutually exclusive, and still others questioning if the entries needed to focus on sports themes. And yet they carried on awarding medals for poems, stadium designs, and paintings for over thirty years.

The picture above is Jean Jacoby's gold medal winning entry for the 1924 Olympics, 'Study of Sport'. More examples of Olympic art here

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.