Sports That Have Inspired Artwork

Written by JR Hartley
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Artists have a unique ability to see beauty all around them, whether this be a picturesque landscape like 'The Starry Night' by Vincent Van Gogh and 'The Hay Wain' by John Constable, or a portrait like the 'Mona Lisa' by Leonardo da Vinci and the 'Laughing Cavalier' by Frans Hale. This allows them to produce works of art that capture complex human emotions into a single still image.

Others use their work to send a message or express an opinion like Banksy’s statements on social issues and Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup canvas paintings that mimicked mass production and consumer culture.

Sometimes, artists take inspiration from major events. One example of such, and a popular source of inspiration, is a sport with pieces being created that reflect almost every sport that is played today and in history.

This is understandable. Athletes often have extraordinary physiques that can be aesthetically pleasing in a painting, while sporting events are often extremely emotional with victory and loss stirring up intense feelings. Talented artists can recreate this in their work, helping others to experience what the sportspeople go through in their competitions.

Here are some of the best and most famous pieces of artwork inspired by sport.


Poker is one of the most popular card games played today. It has its roots in the 16th and 17th centuries Europe where the French game of Poque was played. It made its way across the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th and 19th centuries as Europeans began to move to the New World.

Today, it’s played in casinos around the world including some of the biggest and most famous in Las Vegas, Macau, Atlantic City, Barcelona, and London. Competitions like the World Series of Poker help to demonstrate the quality and fierce competition that exist in the sport today.

Poker is also one of many casino games that can be enjoyed online, along with other classics like blackjack, roulette, and video slots. With a broad spectrum of players from many different demographics enjoying these types of games, the market today is worth tens of billions of pounds each year. This is why we see so many casinos running free spins promotions to poach customers from their competition.

This diverse selection of players was captured in 'Dogs Playing Poker', a series of oil paintings created by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries.

The paintings show dogs, who have been given some human-like features, playing games of poker with their friends. Each painting has a very different setting, showing different levels of society that enjoyed poker. For example, in 'His Station and Four Aces', which Coolidge painted in 1903, the dogs can be seen on a train, dressed in suits and ties, with hats, and overcoats. Meanwhile, 'A Friend in Need' shows different breeds of dogs in a more humble, homely setting.


Cycling is another sport that has strong connections to France, and particularly Europe. It wasn’t until 1903 that the first Tour de France race was held, less than 90 years after the first bicycle was invented.

Bicycles became mainstream in Italy around the turn of the 20th century, at the same time as the “futurist movement” began to sweep the nation, promising sweeping modernisations to living standards and transportation.

Modern cutting-edge technology like electric cars are the closest equivalent we have today in terms of technological revolution. It’s no surprise then that this technology and the famous French race would inspire an artist.

'Dynamism of a Cyclist' was painted by Umberto Boccioni in 1913. The Italian artist was part of the futurist movement and he also drew on this to create his painting. Instead of recreating a scene of cyclists blasting through a French village or speeding down a hill, Boccioni created a more abstract piece.

Intersecting straight and sweeping lines, while combining contrasting primary and secondary, Boccioni has created the illusion of speed in a static image.

In early sketches, Boccioni used only black lines to create a similar effect. When viewed at the same time, it can make it a little easier to make out the bicycle in the finished painting.

Boccioni wasn’t the only artist to capture bicycles and cycle racing on his work. Jean Metzinger’s 'At the Cycle-Race Track' (Au Vélodrome) depicts Charles Crupelandt winning the Paris-Roubaix race in 1912 and it is believed to be the first Modernist painting to recreate a sporting event.


LeRoy Neinman’s 'The DiMaggio Cut' is a more recent piece of work, which, in many ways, makes it more rare. HD and 4K video recording and photography mean that every millimeter of a sporting event is captured on camera from every angle.

The painting depicts Joe DiMaggio playing for the New York Yankees. It shows the Italian-American baseball player swinging a bat to hit the ball, something that few could do better than him.

DiMaggio, who was often known as 'The Yankee Clipper' and 'Joltin Joe' achieved an unprecedented 56-game hitting streak during the 1941 season. Even today, his achievement is widely considered to be one of the most impressive in both baseball and American sport as a whole.

A lot of this power and achievement has been captured in The DiMaggio Cut. It is painted as though the viewer is sitting or lying on the ground, looking up at DiMaggio as he has his bat raised up over his shoulder while he appears to be moving forward.

This helps to portray the dominance he asserted on the pitch through his strength and power.

This is further emphasised by the blurring of the background, removing the significance of the players and coaches in the dugouts and the players who sit in the two tiers of grandstands behind him.

The bright colours of the background also contrast heavily with the mostly white colours of DiMaggio’s uniform which is stretched across large swathes of the canvas.

The DiMaggio Cut is not Neiman’s only painting of a sporting event or person. He worked as the official artist of the Olympic Games on five occasions and was even involved in the creation of the Rocky movies.

Read 317 times Last modified on Friday, 25 September 2020 12:31
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JR Hartley

JR Hartley

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