The Olympic Games is the field where arts and sports join successfully to highlight the human body and mind. Known since the ancient times they became a global event in nowadays.
The creator of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubetain dreamed to make an art competition as part of the Olympic Games. Gold, silver and bronze medals were to be assigned to artistic works of architecture, literature, music, painting or sculpture. The artistic works had to be inspired by sport.
This initiative has sparked many controversies, the main one regarding the participants in art competition. While the Olympic sports competitors were amateurs the Olympic arts ones were professionals and that was in contradiction with the Olympic concept.
This event took place in parallel with the sport competition starting with 1912 Summer Olympic Games of Sweden. Only 35 artists competed at that time, but were awarded medals in all five artistic categories.
The first significant Olympic art competition was at Paris edition in 1924 when 193 artists participated.
This kind of art events took place until 1954 when Olympic Committee decided to change the competition in an art exhibition taking place at every summer Olympic Games because of the reason mentioned above.
During the years, when both sport and art Olympics took place together, were created wonderful art works and many artists gathered as competitors or members of jury. The most famous jury members were Selma Lagerlöf and Igor Stravinsky.
Architecture was involved in two ways. One way regards the works entered in the competition as the “Olympic Stadium Design” of Jan Wils that was awarded with golden medal in 1928 edition. Another way regards the designs and buildings of many sports complex dedicated to Olympic events that are architectural masterpieces. Spectacular works as “Bird Nest of Beijing” and the Velodrome or Aquatic Center of London are only few examples.
The literature Olympic competition was split in different categories but the requirement was that they must have maximum 20000 words and no matter the language of writer, they had to present an English or French version.
Josef Suk was the only musician that won a silver medal in 1932.
As regards the painting, in 1928 two categories were accepted: drawings and paintings. After successive changes, the final edition of Olympic arts included three categories: art and crafts, engravings/ etchings and oil/water colours.
Jean Jacoby is the only artist with two gold medals in this field.
Sculpture started with a single category before 1928 and was changed in one competition for statues and one for reliefs and medals.
As a review, the most successful Olympic artists along all the competitions were:
- Jean Jacoby (painter) with two gold medals in 1924 – Étude de Sport and 1928 – Rugby;
- Alex Diggelman (applied art&craft )– gold in 1936 (poster Arosa/Placard) and bronze in 1948 (commercial poster);
- Josef Petterson (writer) – silver medals in 1924, 1932 and 1948.
- The Hungarian Alfred Hajós winner in both sport and art Olympic – two gold medals as swimmer in 1896 and silver for Stadium Architecture Design in 1924;
- Walter Winaus (American) – gold and silver in marksman in running deer competition in 1908 and 1912 and gold medal for sculpture “An American Trotter”