In accordance with his wish to integrate art and culture into the Olympic Movement, Pierre de Coubertin organised an Olympic Arts Congress in Paris in 1906, even without the support of most of his IOC colleagues who had no access. Furthermore, in 1912, he organised five “Olympic Art Competitions” for the first time at the Olympic Games in Stockholm.
From 1912 to 1948, artists were able to participate in the Olympic Games in the five categories of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Music and Literature. Just like the athletes, the first three places were awarded Olympic medals. The gold medallists are recorded in the Olympic winner lists as official Olympic champions to this day.
Moreover, the submitted works were exhibited or, in the case of musical pieces, performed in the context of the respective Olympic Games. The strict IOC amateur conditions, the organisational efforts and also the comparatively low number of prominent artists among the participants led to the withdrawal of Olympic art competitions. In addition, there were the amateur regulations which didn’t apply to artists. However, since Melbourne 1956, there has been an obligatory high-profile cultural program at all the Olympic Games, even at the winter Olympics. In addition, the IOC allocates art prizes and announces competitions in fine arts and literature.
Several weeks after the IOC Art Congress in 1906 in Paris, Coubertin sent this letter to all the presidents of universities, National Olympic Committees, sports associations and sport clubs that he knew. With this letter, he wanted to motivate them to artistically enhance sports festivals, and even more, he wanted to inspire them to hold music and literature competitions in association with sporting events. The circular letter to the “German Imperial Commission for Olympic Games” is the only surviving copy worldwide.Collection: Carl and Liselott Diem-Archiv
With his bronze sculpture ”An American Trotter“, the US American Walter Winans (1852 – 1920) won the gold medal in the “Sculpture“ category at the first Olympic Art Competitions in 1912 in Stockholm.
For a long time, the Swedes had opposed Pierre de Coubertin’s demand to stage Olympic Art Competitions not only for artistic but also for financial reasons. Such competitions should already have been held in 1908 in London. De Coubertin, however, insisted on staging the Olympic Art Competitions in Stockholm.
Walter Winans is the only Olympic competitor, who succeeded in winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games both as an athlete and an artist. In 1908, he had already become an Olympic champion in shooting, in 1920, he died, of all places, at a trotting race.
“O Sport, delight of the Gods, destillation of life”, these words open the “Ode to Sport”, with which, according to the official report of 1912, the Germans M. Eschbach and Georges Hohrod won the gold medal in “Literature” at the first Olympic Art Competitions in 1912. The two authors remained unknown for several years and it was not until 1919, that Pierre de Coubertin exposed the secret: He himself had written the “Ode to Sport”. In 1990, Norbert Mueller discovered the source of the names. Coubertin had chosen the names of the two villages of Eschbach and Hohrod in the Munster Valley of Alsace. They were neighbouring towns of Luttenbach, the home village of his wife Marie (born Rothan), which he frequently visited.Collection: Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum, Cologne
His series of winter sport graphic artworks won an Olympic gold for Carlo Pellegrini. His subjects became so popular that they were later published in large quantities as post cards and reproductions.Although his original pictures are unknown, the examples exhibited here demonstrate why winter sports rapidly became socially acceptable.Collection: Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum, Cologne
Apart from his Olympic three and four medal series, Claude-Léon Mascaux (1882 – 1965) also designed the medals for the following disciplines:
Sprint / long jump (Rabbit / grasshopper)
Swimming / wrestling / aeronautics (Fish / Ram / Eagle)
Gymnastics / heavy athletics (Baboon / Elephant)
Jean Jacoby of Luxembourg (1891 – 1936) submitted three watercolours entitled “Etude de sport“ at the 1924 Olympic Art Competitions in Paris, for which he was awarded the Olympic Gold. The works on display here are “Corner“ and “Rugby “. At the 1928 Olympic Art Competitions in Amsterdam, Jacoby won another gold medal for his drawing “Rugby “ in the “Painting, Drawings and Watercolours” category.Collection: Olympic Museum Lausanne
In line with the proposals of the 1906 IOC art conference in Paris, Coubertin intended to artistically enhance the Olympic festivities.
Apart from the official Olympic Games posters used since 1908, which the respective organisation committees had unilaterally commissioned from national artists and which in principle already embodied a “short history of 20th century art”, Coubertin personally commissioned this souvenir poster for the 20th anniversary celebrations of the reintroduction of the Olympic Games within the framework of the 1914 6th Olympic Congress in Paris.
In Edouard Elzingre, he won the support of one of the most famous Swiss artists of the day for this work.
The poster also exists as a coloured souvenir postcard of the congress. The celebrations were held in the large amphitheatre of the Sorbonne before the gigantic (5.70 x 2 m) mural of “Le bois sacré”, dedicated to science and the Muses, by Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), one of the famous French artists, whom de Coubertin admired for of his ancient allegories.
As a deliberate allusion to Greek Antiquity, Elzingre’s lithograph depicts a victorious athlete, returning home as a hero. The representation is significantly characterised by Coubertin’s stylistic sense of history at the time.
It was not possible to stage the five fine arts competitions planned for the 1908 Olympic Games in London so soon after the 1906 IOC Art Congress. Thus, Coubertin independently issued invitations to participate in an Olympic architecture competition in 1910 with the subject “L’Olympie moderne” (“Modern Olympia”), to take the initiative at least in the field of architecture. The original programme, exhibited here, of the presentation of prizes in May 1911 in the Court of Honour of the Sorbonne in Paris testifies to a “true eurhythmic celebration”, as Coubertin wrote, which was accompanied by fireworks and a stage play, “The Philosopher and the Athlete”, especially written by Maurice Pottecher for this occasion.Collection: Norbert Mueller