Art Competitions at the 1912 Summer Olympics

The idea of holding art competitions in conjunction with the sporting events of the Olympic Games is entirely due to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. It is felt that Coubertin took the idea of Olympic art competitions from the British aesthetics theorist, John Ruskin, Slade Professor of Art Criticism at Oxford, and this is discussed in some detail by the German sports scholar, Arnd Krüger, in his article “Coubertin’s Ruskianism”. Norbert Müller has quoted Coubertin as follows: “Now the moment has come when we enter a phase and intend to reestablish the original beauty of the Olympic Games. In the high times of Olympia … the fine arts were combined harmoniously with the Olympic Games to create their glory. This is to become reality once again.”

The main impetus for this to become a reality was the IVth Olympic Congress, held in Paris from 23-25 May 1906. Coubertin announced the Congress in a circular letter sent to the IOC Members on 2 April 1906, in which he noted the topic would be “to come and study to what extent and in what way art and literature could be included in the celebration of the modern Olympiads.”

The final decision of the IVth Olympic Congress was to include competitions in five forms of the arts: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. It was intended that the Olympic art competitions would commence at the 1908 Olympic Games, originally scheduled for Rome. But when Rome had to withdraw from their obligation to celebrate the Games of the IVth Olympiad, they were turned over to London, almost concurrent with the holding of the IVth Olympic Congress in Paris. London had to prepare very quickly for the 1908 Olympic Games and they did not feel that they could host additional events in the form of art competitions.

But even before the 1912 Olympic Games, Coubertin made arrangements for an Olympic Art Competition. In October 1909 he announced that the IOC would sponsor an International Architecture Competition. This was eventually held in Lausanne in 1911 with 21 entrants submitting plans for a modern Olympic city. The competition was won by Eugène-Edouard Monod and Alphonse Laverrière, for their design entitled “A Modern Olympia on the Right Bank of Lake Geneva”.

The Swedish Olympic Committee made plans to conduct the first Olympic art competitions in 1912. They contacted the Swedish Art Institutions and Associations, asking for their assistance. But the competitions were controversial, as one might expect when planning “competition” among a relatively non-competitive group such as artists, and the Art Institutions and Associations had difficulty agreeing on the rules for such competitions.

Discussion among the IOC concerning the art competitions took place at the 11th IOC Session in Luxembourg in 1910. Viktor Gustaf Balck was asked to present his report on the progress of the art competitions and noted that it was difficult to interest the Swedish institutions because they felt it was impossible to judge them fairly.

Coubertin then asked Godefroy de Blonay (SUI) to chair the discussion of the art competitions. He stated that it had been decided in 1906 to make art competitions a mandatory portion of the Olympic program. Further, he stated that art competitions were a part of the Ancient Olympics and that, if the 1912 Olympics did not include art competitions, Coubertin would show minimal interest in the Games. As a result, the Swedes in attendance agreed to add art competitions to the 1912 Olympic program.

The Swedish Olympic Committee finally announced the rules for the art competitions as follows:

  1. The Fifth Olympiad will include competitions in Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Music, and Literature.
  2. The Jury can only consider subjects not previously published, exhibited or performed, and having some direct connection with sport.
  3. The winner of each of the five competitions will be awarded the Gold Olympic Medal. The exhibits selected will, as far as possible, be published, exhibited or performed during the Olympic Games of 1912.
  4. Competitors must notify their intention of entering for one or more of these competitions before the 15 January, 1912, and the exhibits themselves must be in the hands of the Jury before the 1 March, 1912.
  5. No limitations as to size or form are laid down for manuscripts, plans, drawings or canvases, but sculptors are required to send in clay models, not exceeding 80 centimetres in height, length, or width.
  6. For further information, application should be made to M. le Président du Comité International Olympique, 20, Rue Oudinot, Paris.

The jury decided the awards in the five categories, giving out five gold medals, and a lone silver medal in sculpture. But what or who constituted the jury? The Swedish Organizing Committee gave 5,000 French francs to the IOC to carry out the arts contests. The works were sent to 20, rue Oudinot in Paris, the address of Pierre de Coubertin. It is possible, perhaps likely, that he was the entire judge and jury for the arts contests, a fact made especially notable when one realizes he was awarded one of the gold medals. After the decisions were made, all the prize-winning works were brought to Stockholm, where they were exhibited in a hall at Karlavägen 10, two blocks away from the Olympic Stadium.


Event Status Date Participants NOCs
Architecture, Open Olympic 5 May – 27 July 1912 10 6
Literature, Open Olympic 5 May – 27 July 1912 6 3
Music, Open Olympic 5 May – 27 July 1912 5 4
Painting, Open Olympic 5 May – 27 July 1912 4 3
Sculpturing, Open Olympic 5 May – 27 July 1912 8 7
33 (32/1) 11 (11/1)


Event Gold Silver Bronze
Architecture, Open SUI
Literature, Open Georges Hohrod & Martin EschbachGER
Music, Open Richard BarthélemyITA
Painting, Open Carlo PellegriniITA
Sculpturing, Open Walter WinansUSA Georges DuboisFRA

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
Italy ITA 2 0 0 2
Germany GER 1 0 0 1
Switzerland SUI 1 0 0 1
United States USA 1 0 0 1
France FRA 0 1 0 1