Art Competitions at the 1932 Summer Olympics

Dates 30 July – 14 August 1932
Medal Events 13

About three years before the Games, the Organizing Committee (OCOG) began to deal with the art competitions. IOC member Charles Sherrill was appointed chairman of a committee that was responsible for these events. The OCOG thought that the competitions should be carried out in the same form in which they were held in 1928 at Amsterdam. Sherrill and Homer Saint-Gaudens, director of the art department of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, who had led several exhibitions, were asked to determine the costs, which were quoted to the American Federation of Arts. Leila Mechlin, the General Secretary of the American Federation of Arts, was responsible for the American region, while Guillaume Lerolle would be primarily responsible for Europe.

Lerolle informed the European NOCs that he wanted to visit the countries and choose the candidate works of art. Moreover he had also informed the respective governments that the Organizing Committee (OCOG) would pay for the transportation to Los Angeles. He quickly learned, however, that some NOCs wanted to select their own works, in which case, they would have to bear the costs. The NOCs were outraged, and protested to IOC president Henri, Count de Baillet-Latour and of course, Lerolle. Lerolle had come to Europe to promote an interest in the art competitions, but this could only be done in cooperation with the NOCs that would be solely responsible for their participation, and the different financial arrangements were considered unfair. Count de Baillet-Latour intervened with Sherrill and clearly pointed out the independence of NOCs in the selection of the art works. Saint-Gaudens visited the NOCs, felt the resistance, and came up with the strange idea to perform two exhibitions, an official one with the works of the NOCs, and a non-official one under the jurisdiction of the OCOG, for which the costs would be covered. This only led to further protests. Count de Baillet-Latour informed Sherrill that it was absurd to organize two exhibitions, with costs covered for only one of them. Lerolle caved in and informed the NOCs that they may select the works and the OCOG would be responsible for the costs and insurance of the works and the implementation of the exhibition.

Early in 1932 Sherrill was appointed ambassador to Turkey. The responsibility and jurisdiction over the art competitions then went to Leila Mechlin. Besides the usual program brochures including the participation rules for the sporting events, another brochure “General regulations for the art contests” was published and sent out to the NOCs. In addition to the usual information about the different categories, the brochure also specified that only works could be issued by living artists. The works had to be produced not earlier than 1 January 1928, and it was not allowed to submit works that had already been seen in Amsterdam. Comparing the names of the 1932 exhibits with those of 1928, doubts arise as to whether all these rules were respected. The art works had to have a thematic connection to sport and had to be accepted by their NOC. By 1 June 1932, the works had to have been received by the OCOG.

Although the participation in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles was influenced by the world economic crisis and led to fewer teams and athletes, the number of artists or works of art submitted rose significantly. Probably the reason for that was that the costs were covered by the OCOG, with the money later refunded to the NOCs. There were 540 artists from 31 countries who sent 1,100 exhibits to the exhibition, but more than half of them came from the USA, as transport through the Panama Canal was difficult, lengthy, and costly, although the works of art were free of duty in the United States. The total insurance sum was $400,000.

Nine competitions within five art categories were held:

• Architecture: Designs For Town Planning; Architectural Designs

• Sculpture: Statues; Medals and Reliefs

• Literature

• Painting: Paintings; Drawings and Water Colors; Graphic Arts

• Music.

The exhibition was held from 30 July to 1 October 1932 at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. There were 384,000 visitors who entered the exhibition, so that the visiting hours had to be extended. Countries that had sent many works, especially Germany, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA, were situated in a special gallery. Works by the Canadian artist Tait McKenzie were placed in the foyer to see a retrospective of his enormous number of works. The prices of the art works were noted for sale. Everybody wishing to buy one of the works had to put down 10% of the selling price.

For the medal awards an International Jury for the Olympic Competition in Art was responsible, headed by Sherrill, with Leila Mechlin as his closest collaborator. For each of the five arts there was a jury of four to five members, which was not particularly international, as only one non-American per jury was represented.

In addition to gold, silver and bronze medals so-called “honorable recognitions” (Honorable Mention) were awarded. Those winners also received an artist diploma. The medals were handed over to the NOCs during the exhibition.


Event Status Date Participants NOCs
Architecture, Designs For Town Planning, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 10 7
Architecture, Architectural Designs, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 5 3
Architecture, Further Entries, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 47 13
Literature, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 18 8
Music, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 42 14
Painting, Drawings And Water Colors, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 44 14
Painting, Graphic Arts, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 80 15
Painting, Paintings, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 136 22
Painting, Unknown Event, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 96 14
Sculpturing, Medals And Reliefs, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 27 12
Sculpturing, Statues, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 88 17
Sculpturing, Unknown Event, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 41 11
Unknown Event, Open Olympic 30 July – 14 August 1932 6 6
590 (516/74) 35 (34/13)


Event Gold Silver Bronze
Architecture, Designs For Town Planning, Open John HughesGBR Jens Houmøller KlemmensenDEN André VerbekeBEL
Architecture, Architectural Designs, Open FranceFRA John Russell PopeUSA Richard KonwiarzGER
Literature, Open Paul BauerGER Josef PetersenDEN
Music, Open Josef SukTCH
Painting, Drawings And Water Colors, Open Lee BlairUSA Percy CrosbyUSA Gerard WestermannNED
Painting, Graphic Arts, Open Joseph Webster GolinkinUSA Janina KonarskaPOL Joachim KarschGER
Painting, Paintings, Open David WallinSWE Ruth MillerUSA
Sculpturing, Medals And Reliefs, Open Józef KlukowskiPOL Frederick MacMonniesUSA Tait McKenzieCAN
Sculpturing, Statues, Open Mahonri Mackintosh YoungUSA Miltiades MannoHUN Jakub ObrovskýTCH

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States USA 3 4 0 7
Poland POL 1 1 0 2
Germany GER 1 0 2 3
France FRA 1 0 0 1
Great Britain GBR 1 0 0 1
Sweden SWE 1 0 0 1
Denmark DEN 0 2 0 2
Czechoslovakia TCH 0 1 1 2
Hungary HUN 0 1 0 1
Belgium BEL 0 0 1 1
Canada CAN 0 0 1 1
Netherlands NED 0 0 1 1