Football in Art and Art in Football

Isla Phillips-Ewen 9 April 2024 min Read

The spheres of art history and football may not seem inherently connected. Yet, football holds a cherished place within culture, serving as both a source of adoration and a reflective lens. Firstly, artists opt to meditate on football to manifest their affection for this captivating sport. Furthermore, the art of football transcends the pitch to encompass societal commentary. Let’s embark on a journey through the fusion of football and art. From icons like Lowry, Picasso, and Warhol to contemporary artists like Juno Calypso and Kehinde Wiley, the creative world embraces the essence of football.

Football in Art Cupid Playing Football with the World Eric Gill
Eric Gill, Cupid Playing Football with the World, 1929, The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art, London, UK.

Community, commerce, politics and class are part of the ground on which football plays. It’s woven into our social fabric. From kids kicking balls in the street to tabloid front pages to a mad club loyalty that lasts a lifetime.

Miranda Sawyer, The Art of Football review, 2018. The Guardian.

Football in Art Hank Willis Thomas | Endless Column III, 2017
Hank Willis Thomas, Endless Column III, 2017, Ben Brown Fine Arts Gallery. Artnet.

Willis is taking an icon of art history and turning it into this sporting emblem. This is the beauty of what excites me between the intersection of sport and art.

Nadja Sayej, The Art of Football – an exhibition devoted to the beautiful game, 2018. The Guardian.

Constantin Brâncuși, Endless Column, 1918-1938, Târgu Jiu, Romania. outdooractive.

Football Fans

Football in Art Going to the Match Laurence Stephen Lowy
Laurence Stephen Lowy, Going to the Match, 1928, The Lowry Museum, Manchester, UK.

Laurence Stephen Lowry won a competition called “Football and the Fine Arts” in 1953 with this painting. Going to the Match show supporters going to Burnden Park, Bolton Wanderers’ old ground. Read more about Lowry and his love of football in the World Cup Opening Games with LS Lowry.

Football in Art Gerald Cains, Saturday Taxpayers
Gerald Cains, Saturday Taxpayers, 1953, National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.

Similarly to Lowry, Gerald Cains entered the same competition with this painting. It shows fans queuing to enter Fratton Park Stadium in Portsmouth. Moreover, the crowd embodies the post-war angst of the time as well as paying tribute to the importance of football in British culture.

Football in Art Tabitha Jussa, Photograph, Anfield Football
Tabitha Jussa, Photographic Composite with Anfield Football Supporters, Anfield, 2015. Artist’s website.

We have another example in this brilliant piece by Tabitha Jussa, a Liverpudlian photographer. Using time-lapse techniques her picture shows football fans in the hours preceding a game. Firstly it is a universal ode to the rituals of the match. Secondly, it is also a testament to the changing landscape around Liverpool football club.

Football in Art P. J. Crook, Armchair Supporters, Leicestershire County
P. J. Crook, Armchair Supporters, c. 2004, Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection, Leicestershire, UK.

The Match

Football in Art Sir Cecil Beaton, Footballers
Sir Cecil Beaton, Footballers, c.1995, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Although known mainly for photography and glamour (note his contract with Vogue), Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton was also a fan of football. Here a goalkeeper leaps to make a save, which the player in red is already celebrating as a goal.

Football in Art Eddie Peake, Touch, 1 March 2012, Performance
Eddie Peake, Touch, 1 March 2012, Performance. Royal Academy, London, UK.

Importantly, because of the intensity of competitive sport and the British traditions surrounding the game, football in art can be an arena for exploring much more. For instance, Touch by Eddie Peake is a performance piece consisting of football games where all players are naked. It combines the exploration of masculinity and sexuality within the sport as well as the nude in art history.

Football in Art Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Any Wintery Afternoon in England
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Any Wintry Afternoon in England, 1930, Manchester Art Gallery, UK.

Football Dressing Room

Football in Art Watford Dressing Room Hubert Andrew Freeth
Hubert Andrew Freeth, Watford Dressing Room, 1953, National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.

Our first example is from Andrew Freeth who was a portrait painter and etcher. In his depiction of the Watford football club dressing room, we observe the different personalities and moods of each footballer as they decompress after the match.

Football in Art Juno Calypso, Sent Off,
Juno Calypso, Sent Off, 2019. Artist’s website.

In contrast, the above photograph depicts the sent-off before the game. Here we see a different side to the changing room, a place that cradles the pre and post-match emotions. Juno Calypso works with photography, film, and installation. Sent Off is part of a series for an exhibition in collaboration with the Women’s World Cup. Here Calypso makes central the idea of “Baker-Miller Pink” (a shade of pink developed by scientists as a way of calming aggression) and doesn’t shy away from the more animalistic elements of the beautiful game. Read more about this fascinating series here.

The Players

Football in Art Footballeur Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, Footballeur, 1965, National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.

Famously, Andy Warhol met the Brazilian football player Pelé in 1970 and captured the grace and skill of the game in his portrait.

Football in Art Andy Warhol, Pelé,
Andy Warhol, Pelé, 1978, private collection. Christie’s.

In addition, there is Kehinde Wiley, a modern-day historical portrait painter (well known for Obama’s presidential portrait). Here he depicts Cameroonian striker and celebrity Samuel Eto’o.

Kehinde Wiley in collaboration with PUMA, Samuel Eto’o, 2010. Jeffrey Deitch.

As a contemporary descendent of a long line of portraitists, including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, Ingres, among others, Wiley, engages the signs and visual rhetoric of the heroic, powerful, majestic and the sublime in his representation of urban, black and brown men found throughout the world.

– Project description from the artist’s website. Kehinde Wiley.

Rose Wylie, Yellow Strip
Rose Wylie, Yellow Strip, 2006, Serpentine Gallery, London, UK.

Likewise, Rose Wylie is known for large-scale paintings. In Yellow Strip, her signature style observes famous footballers, including Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann and Ronaldinho.

Football in Art The Art of The Game
Michael J. Browne, The Art of the Game, 1997, National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.

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