It has become a trope on social media now to share a clip of a pass, a shot or a piece of skill and proclaim that it be placed in the Louvre. Patrick Mahomes’ recent performance in the Super Bowl for example, that justified many fantasy football players decisions in recognising his match winning abilities over the course of the season, or Lionel Messi’s artistry in the 2022 World Cup for example.
Whilst the calls to place certain plays or performances into exhibition halls is clearly tongue in cheek, there are clear links between sport and art. In this article we take a look at some of the most famous, prestigious and thought provoking examples of sport-inspired art.
Read on to find out what they are…
The Football Players
Who? Henri Rousseau
Where? The Guggenheim museum, New York
Legendary former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly reportedly told an interviewer, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Regardless of the veracity of that quote, the sentiment behind it is that football is the be all and end all for many, many people. Yet at its heart, football is an absurd sport and football fandom is even more absurd.
This famous painting from Henri Rousseau, depicting four men playing what actually looks like rugby in an exotic woodland, highlights the absurdity of organised sport. To the men in the painting, there is clearly nothing more important or pressing than the game, to us as observers, it is patently bizarre.
In posing that juxtaposition, Rousseau perfectly captures the difference of experience between sports fanatics and those who simply don’t understand the language of organised sport.
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(The sport being played in this painting has long been the cause for consternation.)
Where? The British museum, London
Sport is not just important to contemporary audiences, it has been a staple of human life for millennia and was incredibly precious to the Romans. The sporting pantheon was often used as a way to communicate stories with famous Stoics like Marcus Aurelius using sport as an allegory for facing the challenges of life.
The famous sculptor Myron created a bronze statue showing a discus thrower in mid-throw which was unfortunately lost. The Discobolus, a marble replica, highlights the attention to detail and sheer artistry of Myron in creating the statue.
In a word without still pictures and freeze frame cameras, to capture this moment of mid-throw in perfect detail is nothing short of remarkable.
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(The detail in this sculpture is stunning.)
The Dynamism of a Cyclist
Who? Umberto Boccioni
Where? Museo del Novecento, Milan
Futurism was an artistic movement in Italy that began in the early 20th century and centred on the idea of the future, speed, industry and technology. It was also a movement that became closely entwined with the rise and spread of fascism in Italy.
If you ever find yourself with time on your hands and are in need of a compelling story, the rise and fall of futurism in Italy is one to look out for. As well as helping Benito Mussolini to power, futurism also produced some incredibly thought-provoking and moving pieces of art.
Dinamismo di un Ciclista by Umberto Boccioni is a stunning portrayal of the speed and power of a cyclist and, with everyone we know about cycling apparel now, is a stunningly accurate portrayal of a modern cyclists attire.
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(This painting by Boccioni is arguably the most visually stunning of the examples in this article.)
Going To The Match
Who? LS Lowry
Where? The National Football Museum, Manchester
British artist LS Lowry was an avid football fan and could often be found spending his Saturday’s watching his beloved Manchester City at Maine Road. Lowry also had a soft spot for Bolton Wanderers, a club a short walk from his home.
In 1953 he produced his famous Going To The Match painting that depicted hordes of fans, some with their dogs, coming from far and wide to the stadium. The picture shows the stadium as the heart of the city, giving it an almost religious significance.
In doing so, it perfectly captures the cultural significance that sport and sports stadia have. The painting, which was initially created for a competition run by the Football Association was sold to the Professional Footballer’s Association in 1999 for a staggering £1.9 million.