- Sport and Modernism in the Visual Arts in Europe, c. 1909–39 by Bernard Vere
In his book Sport and Modernism in the Visual Arts in Europe, c. 1909–39, the art historian Bernard Vere presents a selection of artworks by known and also lesser-known artists from four countries: France, Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Although the artists worked in different disciplines, such as painting, photography, film, literature, and architecture, the interest in sport is the unifying commonality. Vere’s choice of artworks presents a wide range of examples for the artists’ understanding of sport.
Vere explains that the book was motivated by the “surprising lack of critical material on the relationship between the visual arts and sport in general” (8). In addressing this absence, he provides a historical overview for the development of the sports he has chosen to discuss—rugby, tennis, cycling, motor racing, and boxing—starting in the nineteenth century and going into the 1930s. Vere elaborates on the topic of modern sport, breaking it down into five chapters with separate sections. This approach provides the opportunity to broaden the visual source material, in particular, as all chapters discuss examples of different disciplines of art.
The first and the third chapters analyze sport-related paintings. Starting with cycling, Vere discusses some of the key works by the German Lyonel Feininger and the French Jean Metzinger, an expressionist and a cubist painter, respectively, as well as the Italian futurist Umberto Boccioni. The inclusion of motor racing emphasizes Vere’s observation that the works capture the painters’ interest in technique and machines. In the paintings by the Frenchmen Henri Rousseau, Robert Delaunay, and Albert Gleizes, discussed in the third chapter, Vere explains how the artworks depict rugby as a “source of national pride” (93).
In the second chapter, Vere elaborates on art as a performance, centering on Arthur Cravan, a French dadaist performer, and his boxing match against the American Jack Johnson. The chapter continues with the “mass spectator sport” (64) tennis, presenting the well-known female player Suzanne Lenglen and introduces the tennis court photography of Le Corbusier. [End Page 136]
Another discipline discussed in the book is film. For Vere, Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia and the constructivist works by the Hungarian Lázló Moholy-Nagy and the Russian Gustav Klucis serve to contrast the Olympic Games and the 1928 Spartakiade organized by the Soviet regime. In this context, Vere also touches on the topic of women’s participation in sport. The last chapter in the book centers on architecture, in particular on multisport facilities, because “planning them attracted many prominent modernist architects of the day” (150). The German cross-disciplinary institution Bauhaus, with its link between sport and design, is the first example. Vere tells about the students’ curriculum with sports lessons, as well as about the sports clothing design. He continues with examples for stadiums in France, Moscow, Florence, and Turin and explains the photomontage technique of the Russian artist and architect El Lissitzky.
Vere draws extensively from twentieth-century sources. Newspapers, international journals, such as the French Maintenant and the American The Soil, as well as photographs, give accounts and impressions of the sport events. In addition, Vere draws the attention to artists as editors, such as to Le Corbusier and his L´Esprit Nouveau, evidencing that artists used several means to express their opinions. This book nicely contributes to the field of visual sources for sport-history research, introducing new examples that represent different disciplines of art and that were created by artists, some of whom have been overlooked so far. Vere uses reproductions of excellent quality. His guidance through the artworks is very detailed and informative and requires a certain level of art-history knowledge from the reader.
There are, however, two disappointments with the volume. Considering the overar-ching nature of the book, the conclusion could have been significantly expanded to draw together and clarify Vere’s main ideas of...