The Cultural Olympiad
Poster for the Sport in Art Exhibition

The modern Olympic Games were founded by Pierre de Coubertin as a re-creation of the ancient Greek concept that the games should celebrate mind, body and spirit. The modern Olympics were first held in Athens in 1896 and it was not until 1912 that the games also incorporated arts competitions with the victors being awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. Medals were awarded for architecture, painting, literature and music. These cultural competitions were staged for the last time at the 1948 London Games. From 1952 the concept changed and a series of cultural events to support the sports Games was launched.

The 1948 competition included architecture, painting, sculpture, graphic art, crafts, literature and music. The Craft section was strengthened by a competition instituted by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, who gave prizes for the best shield, cup, or torch. Two torches were submitted, one of which, by Mr. Lavers, was used at the Games.

7 galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington, London were made available to exhibit the works. 3 galleries were devoted to oil paintings, 1 gallery each to sculpture, architecture, water-colours and graphic arts, and 2 galleries for crafts. Large sculpture was exhibited in the centre of the picture galleries and glass display cases containing glass, porcelain and silver were placed in the centres of the water-colour and craft rooms.

The cost of the exhibition, apart from office expenses, was approximately £3,000. A non-illustrated catalogue was printed and sold at 1s. 6d. An illustrated souvenir, containing 97 illustrations (32 paintings, 20 water-colours and black and whites, 25 pieces of sculpture, 10 crafts, and 10 architecture) was sold at 3s. 6d. A charge for admission of 2s. (10p) was made, but this proved to be rather high. A reduction was made for large parties, and art students were admitted at half price.

By Boberger. Photo: Bengt Oberger (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

On the right is an image of Gustav Nordahl's 'Hommage to Ling' which won the gold medal in Sculpture at the Olympic Games in London 1948. Cast in bronze, it now stands now outside the College of Physics and Sports in Stockholm, Sweden.

The exhibition was opened by H.R.H. The Duchess of Gloucester, in the presence of approximately 1,000 guests, including Ministers, Members of the Corps Diplomatique, the President of the International Olympic Committee, the President of the Games, and numerous distinguished foreigners. The exhibition ran from from 15th July to 14th August, and was open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am to 6pm, Wednesday and Saturday from 10am to 10pm and Sunday from 2.30pm to 6pm.

A short film about the exhibition first broadcast in 1948 can be seen on the BBC Archives site.

Twenty-seven countries participated in the competition and exhibition, with 36 music and 44 literature entries. The remainder were in the various sections of art.

You can find out more about the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Games at

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