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Did you know the Olympics used to give out medals for artistic endeavours, alongside athletic competitions? In an article written for the Smithsonian magazine, Joseph Stromberg explains that the Founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, saw true Olympians as well-rounded individuals, who were able to write a sonnet just as well as they could hurl a shotput: athletic prowess and artistic sensibilities should be held in equal regard.

Here at Art UK we want to honour the Baron by staging the Art UK Olympics on Twitter (you can follow us on Twitter @artukdotorg), to coincide with the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio this summer. Art has the power to convey emotions and illustrate the human experience. By hosting the #ArtUKOlympics from 5th August to 18th September, our aim will be to get people looking closely at artworks they may be familiar with, or art they have never come across before.

How will #ArtUKOlympics work?

There will be six games, in which there will each be four paintings. These artworks will compete to be the most romantic, sad, joyous, scary, calming and empowering. Between 5th August and 18th September, Art UK will post six Twitter polls. Art UK will ask Twitter, which painting in the poll is the most successful at conveying a particular emotion? Competing artworks will be added to this blog post below, and posted on Twitter during each game.

How do I win a prize?

Look out for our #ArtUKOlympics tweets, and take the time to look at the artworks we post before you vote in the poll. To be in for a chance of winning a prize, however, you must tweet a response @artukdotorg to one of the artworks competing. For example, tell us which detail of the painting charms you, makes you feel uncomfortable, nostalgic or happy? Why do you like a painting, or why don’t you like a painting? You can tell us in a tweet, or even post a photo or video. Great responses will be retweeted – and our favourites will be awarded prizes.

  • Gold award: The choice between one of two brilliant new books from Phaidon: either Brazil, an overview of contemporary culture, or JR: Can Art Change the World?, the first major monograph on JR, the enigmatic Parisian artist making another Inside Out piece for Rio this summer
  • Silver award: The remaining book (either Brazil or JR: Can Art Change the World?)
  • Bronze award: One Oil Paintings in Public Ownership catalogue from the Art UK Shop (subject to availability)

Let the games begin!

Jade King, Art UK




Art UK Olympic Games


Romantic artworks – Friday 5th August

Which of these paintings best captures romance, either an as ideal or as the representation of love between two people?

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet 1884

Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853–1928)

Interior, Girl Reading

Interior, Girl Reading 1875

Alfred Provis (c.1818–1890)

Venus verticordia

Venus verticordia 1864–1868

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)


Sad artworks – Friday 12th August

Do these artworks inspire melancholy or longing? What is it about them that conveys sadness: the expressions, or story behind the artwork?

Beata Beatrix

Beata Beatrix c.1864-70

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)

The Lost Shepherd

The Lost Shepherd 1860

Richard Ansdell (1815–1885)

The Sick Child (Det syke barn)

The Sick Child (Det syke barn) 1907

Edvard Munch (1863–1944)

The Sailor's Funeral

The Sailor's Funeral 1908–1925

William Shackleton (1872–1933)


Happy artworks – Friday 19th August

Joy, fun and laughter are represented in these paintings. Which makes you happy, and why?

The Golden Wedding

The Golden Wedding c.1900

Pompeo Massani (1850–1920)

The Grasmere Rushbearing

The Grasmere Rushbearing 1905

Frank Bramley (1857–1915)

Children Playing with Puppies

Children Playing with Puppies 1812

William Collins (1788–1847)


Scary artworks – Friday 26th August

Either hellish or gory, these frightening artworks evoke fears and nightmares. How do they do it? What aspect of the paintings chill you?

The Ghost of a Flea

The Ghost of a Flea c.1819-20

William Blake (1757–1827)


Calming artworks –Monday 5th September

Relaxing, mellow or still and calm: which of these paintings are the most peaceful and soothing?

A Room at Twilight: Kellie Castle

A Room at Twilight: Kellie Castle

John Henry Lorimer (1856–1936)

The Lake, Petworth, Sunrise

The Lake, Petworth, Sunrise c.1827-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)

The Travelling Companions

The Travelling Companions 1862

Augustus Leopold Egg (1816–1863)


Empowering artworks – Monday 12th September

Inspiring people in history, Olympian pride, proud monarchs and brave defiance: paintings can empower people, or be used to show power. Which painting speaks to you, and why?

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

Elizabeth I (1533–1603) 16th C

British (English) School

Othello, the Moor of Venice

Othello, the Moor of Venice 1826

James Northcote (1746–1831)

'Take your Son, Sir'

'Take your Son, Sir' ?1851-92

Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893)