Decoding Olympic history in a painting by Charles de Coubertin / Natalia Camps Y Wilant

Camps Y Wilant, Natalia

When Pierre de Coubertin died in 1937, he left an impressive amount of writings, which have enabled international sport historians to research his modern Olympic Games to this day. Besides the written sources on Olympic history, other artefacts play a minor role in the research of sport historians; visual sources such as artworks, in particular, have been overlooked and consequently are not used to their full potential. This observation does not seem to be important unless Pierre de Coubertin’s artistic family background is taken into account. The fact that his father, Charles de Coubertin (1822–1908), had been a painter sheds new light on visual sources and makes it necessary to take a more detailed look at them. This paper concentrates on one of Charles de Coubertin’s paintings, which is exhibited in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Drawing on Olympic history documents and art historical sources, the painting is decoded according to an art history method. Beyond that, artefacts created by the artist were discovered in the archives of the descendants of the Coubertin family. The combination of these sources evidences that Charles de Coubertin was a close observer of his son’s ideas and witnessed developments in Olympic history.

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