The Introduction of Olympic Art Competitions

Stephan Wassong

Already at the very start of the Olympic Games Pierre de Coubertin considered the inclusion of art competitions in the Olympic programme. But according to him “the first necessity was to revive them and the second to shape them”[1]. In 1904 he thought that the time has come now to realize his idea to invite the arts to the Olympic Games. This was driven by the intention “to make the Olympic Games increasingly perfect, (…) and more worth”[2]. Here again, one can refer to the inspiration of the English philosopher John Ruskin on Coubertin`s vision to develop the Olympic Games into something more than a mere athletic international competition (please refer also to the entry The Olympic Rituals and Symbols). The now planned combination of sport and art should support the achievement of this goal. The art competitions were to contribute to the celebration of the Olympic Games as a unique festival at which competitors and spectators alike could experience a balanced harmony of athletic, cultural, educational and aesthetical dimensions.


On 2nd April 1906 Coubertin sent out a circular letter to the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) inviting them to discuss the invention of Olympic art competitions at an advisory conference.

Invitation to artists to the 1906 Advisory Conference in Paris.
© International Olympic Committee

This conference, which is also listed as the 4th Olympic Congress, took place from 23rd to 25th May 1906 in Paris. According to the theme, the opening and closing ceremony took place in the foyer of the Comédie Françaisein the presence of artists as guests. Most of the invited writers, sculptors, architects and painters were from France. They were accompanied by representatives of state institutions, including the director of the National Museums of France and chairmen of sport associations. Only 5 IOC members followed Coubertin`s invitation to join the meeting. These were the Englishman Courcy Laffan, the French Felix E. Callot and Albert Bertier de Sauvigny and Coubertin himself.


The very low number of IOC members had its reason in the celebration of the 2nd International Olympic Games in Athens in 1906. The success of the 1896 Athens Olympic Games and the inclusion of the 1900 Olympic Games which were totally absorbed into the World Fair held in Paris, fuelled the claim of the Greeks to stage the Olympic Games in Athens permanently. Coubertin was against this idea as it was not in accordance with his idea of an international festival with alternating venues. Despite Coubertin`s opposition the IOC decided to stage interim Olympic Games in 1906. The event in Greece, which Coubertin refused to attend, took place in Athens in April and only a few weeks before the meeting in Paris. Most of the IOC members travelled to Athens and decided not to travel to Paris again for the advisory conference to discuss the implementation of art competitions.


The first result of the conference was the organisation of an architectural competition outside of the Olympic Games. The IOC advertised the competition in 1910 and specified in the announcement the task which was to build a model of a modern Olympia. The competition was supervised by École Spéciale d`Archtecturein Paris and two architects were selected as winners. The second result was the approval of Olympic art competitions in the five categories architecture, sculpturing, painting, literature and music. The first edition of the Olympic art competitions was held at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games as Rome had dropped out as host city for the Olympic Games in 1908 and London had only stepped in on a very short-term notice.

Model of A modern Olympia won by E. Monod and A. Laverrière.
Navacelle Collection

Unfortunately, the first edition of the Olympic art competitions was not really successful. As the Swedish artists` associations did not support the Stockholm Olympic Organizing Committee, most of the work, including advertising the competition and selecting its winners, was left to Coubertin himself. The following artists were the first winners of the Olympic Art Competitions:


Architecture: Eugéne E. Monod & Alphonse Laverriére (SUI): Construction Model of a Modern Stadium (9 participants in total; silver and bronze medals were not awarded)


Music: R. Barthélemy (ITA): Olympic Triumphal March (6 participants in total, silver and bronze medals were not awarded)


Painting: Carlo Pellegrini (ITA): Winter Sport (4 participants in total, silver and bronze medals were not awarded)


Sculpturing: Walter Winnas (USA): An American Trotter (7 participants in total, silver and bronze medals were not awarded)


Literature: Georges Hohrod & M. Eschbach (GER): Ode to Sport (8 other participants, silver and bronze medals were not awarded)


As to the winner in the literature competition one has to mention that it was Coubertin who won the gold medal. He submitted the Ode to Sport under the pseudonym Hohrod/Eschbach. For seven years he remained silent about his involvement and victory.

Emblem of the Olympic Art Competition.
Navacelle Collection

The art competitions were part of the Olympic programme till 1948. After a successful Olympic art competition at the 1948 London Olympic Games they were excluded. This decision was strongly influenced by Avery Brundage who propagated that the contestants were practically all professionals. Brundage himself had submitted his article The Significance of Amateur Sport for the Olympic art competitions held at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. He was awarded no medal but given honourable mention. At its session in Rome in 1949 the IOC officially decided on ending the Olympic art competitions.



[1] Coubertin quoted in: Müller, Norbert: One Hundred Years of Olympic Congresses 1894 – 1996. Niedernhausen 1994. 69.

[2] Ibid., 69.