The eight best sporting artworks (part 2)

  1. Pulcinella and the Tumblers, 1797, by Tiepolo

Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Venice

Those traveling gymnasts are putting on a show in 18th century in Venice, where Tiepolo painted the scene as a fresco. Pulcinella refers to the hook-nosed trickster in a black mask, a Commedia del’arte figure somewhere between Punch and Harlequin, which is responsible for turning the world upside down. This is exactly what these gymnasts are enacting with all of their springy athleticism. For what Tiepolo depicts is the ability of the gymnast to walk on one’s hands meanwhile appearing to tumble all around the place and to topple while keeping one’s balance.

4. The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake, 1873, painted by Thomas Eakins

Cleveland Art Museum

The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake commemorates America’s first pair-oared sculling race, which was held on the Schuykill River in Philadelphia in 1872. The painting shows the Biglin brothers turning the stake with John pushing his oar and Barney pulling his to create the gliding movement that was repeated in Eakins’s beautiful composition. The Biglin brothers are winning as their opponents are still rowing towards their flag in the distance. The picture well celebrates their team spirit and closeness. The great realist Eakins painted from personal experience when he was a dedicated oarsman on the very same river, too.

5. A Rally, 1885, Sir John Lavery

Glasgow Museums Resource Centre

Lawn tennis was quite new when the young woman in Sir John Lavery’s painting A Rally hit the ball back across the net. The Anecdote has it that Major Walter Clopton Wingfield started playing outdoors with vulcanized rubber balls in London in 1874 and Sir John Lavery, the Irish-born painter, got the bug on his return from Paris only a few years later. His painting emphasized on the woman in her hopelessly impractical but fetching dress, dramatized her energy and concentration. Sir John Lavery also painted some tennis scenes in Scotland, each regarded pioneering, rather like the player herself.