Irish Art competing at the Olympics 1924 – 1948.
This short blog is part of an ongoing research project and presents a list of Irish participants and their exhibits in Olympic art competitions. Art was a competitive sport until the 1948 Olympics in London, an event at which Letitia Hamilton (1878-1964) won a bronze medal for her painting, Meath Hunt Point-to-Point Races.
Hamilton’s painting is currently untraced [see update at the end of this post] but believed to be in a private collection in the United States. She painted a number of similar closely related scenes, and a work believed to be a sketch for the Bronze medal painting was exhibited in 2014.
Jack Yeats (1871-1957), won a silver medal for Swimming (now known as The Liffey Swim) at the 1924 Paris Olympics just two years after the Irish Free State was established and a year after his brother won the Nobel Prize for literature. Both awards celebrated the brothers’ artistic brilliance and politically acknowledged the nascent State. Artist John Lavery (1856-1941) was both a competitor, representing the Irish Free State, and a judge for the 1924 art competition. The gold medal in 1924 was awarded to Jean Jacoby (1891-1936) from Luxembourg, he was the most successful competitor in Olympic art competitions winning another gold medal in 1928. John Lavery became disillusioned with the Irish political situation, changed allegiances, and represented the United Kingdom at the Amsterdam Games in 1928 and Los Angeles in 1932. Disputes within Irish sporting bodies resulted in the country’s non-participation at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the 1940 and 1944 events were cancelled due to World War 2. After art ceased to be an Olympic competition all records of the event were expunged.
Irish Participation in Olympic Art Competitions 1924 – 1948.
In one unverified account, artists Maurice MacGonigal, Ciaran Clear and Thomas Healy are recorded as exhibiting paintings in London.
Jack Yeat’s silver medal in Paris 1924 was ignored in Irish political circles, long before it was expunged. The then Taoiseach W. T. Cosgrave, in his speech at a banquet to celebrate the success of the Irish Olympic team at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, where Dr. Pat O’Callaghan won a gold medal in the hammer, erroneously lamented that at the Paris Games in 1924, the first that the new State participated in, ‘no Irish competitor succeeded in getting inside the first three in any event and so Ireland did not succeed in having her Flag hoisted’.
All Olympic art entries were required to be on the theme of sport. The Liffey Swim, now hangs prominently in the National Gallery of Ireland, features spectators, including the artist in a brown fedora and his wife Mary Cottenham (Cottie) in a yellow hat, watching the race as the swimmers near O’Connell Bridge. An Post issued a stamp featuring the painting to mark the 100th Liffey swim in 2019.
Update to original blog post.
Page 67 of Stephen Odlum’s book, Eva, Letitia and the Hamilton Sisters, (Zest Publications, 2020), showing an image of Letitia Hamilton’s Olympic bronze medal winning entry from the artists papers.