To celebrate their 90th anniversary in 1953, the Football Association launched the Football and the Fine Arts competition with sponsorship from the recently formed Arts Council of Great Britain. Artists were encouraged to create artworks showing ‘any aspect of Association football, not only the game itself, but all its related activities’.
There was a huge response to the call, with over 1700 entries. With prizes nearing a total of £3000, it’s no surprise that the competition received a lot of interest.
The entries were whittled down by judges including Directors of the Tate and National Galleries, the Arts Director of the Arts Council and the head of the Slade School of Art. A final selection of 150 works were exhibited at the International Faculty of Arts, at Park Lane House in London.
A selection of the pieces created for this competition can be found in our collection. Continue through this online exhibition to find out more.
Crowds and Stadiums, Not Figures
Football and the Fine Arts caught the attention of newspapers nationwide, many publishing features and reviews of the exhibition. After closing in London, the exhibition went on a tour of institutions around the country, appearing at various locations including Birkenhead, Sheffield, Manchester, Aberdeen, and Luton between 1953-1954.
'Off to the Match' by Karel Lek
Karel Lek’s woodcut, with its emphasis on the importance of football supporters dressing up for the game, highlights a sense of character and carnival amongst football fans. Off to the Match is reminiscent of the photographs of football supporters, often eccentrically dressed, that featured prominently in popular magazines such as Picture Post from the 1930s onwards. Karel Lek (1929-present) is still a working artist, living in North Wales.
'Moment of Victory' by Michael Rothenstein
'Mid-week Practice at Stamford Bridge' by Lawrence Toynbee
Mid-week Practice at Stamford Bridge, an oil on canvas was one of two works submitted by Lawrence Toynbee to the 1953 competition. This piece was particularly praised by influential art critic David Sylvester in a review of the exhibition in The Listener magazine.
Toynbee was one of four winners in the painting category, awarded a £250 prize.
'Watford Dressing Room' by Hubert Andrew Freeth
'Saturday Afternoon' by Grace Wheatley
Although there is no evidence of this work by Grace Wheatley (1888-1970) having appeared at the Football and Fine Arts exhibition, it was clearly inspired by the FA competition, as were many artists in early 1950s Britain.
With thanks to:
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund
Academic Partner Professor Mike O’Mahony, University of Bristol
Ray Physick (‘The Representation of Association Football in Fine Art in England From its Origins to the Present Day’, 2013)