The Eyes

The Eyes

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Olympic Medals for Art

In the early days of the modern Olympics, artists battled for gold, silver, and bronze medals in architecture, sculpture, paintings and graphic arts, literature, and music. Art competitions were held at the Olympic games from 1912 to 1948. Winners of the art competitions were awarded medals, similar to the winners of the athletic competitions. The events were championed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who felt that in order to recreate the events in modern times, it would be incomplete to not include some aspect of the arts.

At the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, American Walter Winans took the podium and waved proudly to the crowd. He had already won two Olympic medals—a gold for sharpshooting at the 1908 London Games and a silver for the same event in 1912. However, the gold he won at Stockholm wasn’t for sharpshooting, but instead for a small piece of bronze he cast earlier that same year, a horse pulling a small chariot. For his work, An American Trotter, Winans won the first ever Olympic gold medal for sculpture.

Over the next several years, local audiences came out in numbers to see the sports-themed artworks. At the the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, nearly 400,000 people visited the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art to see the works entered, with some recognizable names in the competitions. John Russell Pope, the architect of the Jefferson Memorial, won a silver that year for his design of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, constructed at Yale University. Italian sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti, American illustrator Percy Crosby, Irish author Oliver St. John Gogarty, and Dutch painter Isaac Israƫls were other prominent entrants.

In 1940 and 1944, the Olympics were put on hold as nearly all participating countries became embroiled in World War II. Resuming in 1948, John Copley of Britain won one of the final medals awarded, a silver for his engraving, Polo Players. He was 73 years old at the time, and would be the oldest medalist in Olympic history (if his victory still counted). The 151 art medals awarded were officially stricken from the Olympic record and currently do not count toward official current medal counts.