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16 empowering designs

From the first official Olympics poster to the 1995 Atlanta Games, these images evidence the strength, athleticism, patriotism, and global unity that these events aim for.

1. Olympische Spiele / Stockholm 1912.
By Olle Hjortzberg (1872-1959)
29 x 40 1/4 in./73.8 x 102.2 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

The Games of the Fifth Olympiad saw the birth of the first official poster for the events. Held in Stockholm, a nude Swedish athlete brandishes his country’s flag in the foreground, while an orange streamer artistically covers his modesty. Behind him in equally enthusiastic procession are male athletes from other countries, each with his respective flag. This poster was printed in 16 languages and three size variants, of which this is the largest, German text version.

3. Olympische Spelen / Amsterdam. 1916.
By Jan Willem Sluiter (1873-1949)
32 x 44 in./81 x 112 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Sluiter, a major Dutch graphic designer and political caricaturist, believed in simple lines, flat basic colors, and prominent lettering. And as a political caricaturist by avocation, Sluiter’s posters typically relate their graphic message with tongue in cheek. That wouldn’t be the case, however, in this thunderous design for a 1916 Amsterdam Olympic Day organized to prove that the Olympic spirit was alive and well, despite the fact that the Berlin Games had been canceled because of the First World War. This Olympics was still considered to be the Sixth Games of the Modern Olympiad, because as Pierre de Coubertin, the reviver of the Olympic Games, stated, “If an Olympiad is not celebrated, its number remains.” Rare!

7. Olympic Games / Berlin 1936.
By Franz Würbel (1896-?)
25 1/4 x 39 1/2 in./64 x 100.4 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

The official design for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin shows the city’s Brandenburg Gate silhouetted against the golden image of an athlete wearing a triumphant crown of laurels. The poster, sponsored by the German railways, was printed in nineteen languages and allegedly distributed in thirty-four countries. Here we see the English-language version.

8. London 1948 Olympics. 1947.
By Walter Herz (1909-1965)
20 x 30 in./50.8 x 76.2 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

The first Olympiad after World War II was held, fittingly, in the town that had suffered grievous losses during the long ordeal, but emerged victorious. There was only one official poster, by an artist who escaped from Nazism in 1939 and settled permanently in England; at this time, Herz was the art director of Heros Publicity Studios in London. The poster was printed in three sizes, of which this is the medium format. It gives the story in perfect shorthand: the Grecian athletic spirit meets the British Houses of Parliament.

12. Tokyo 1964 Olympics.
By Yusaku Kamekura (1915-1997)
28 5/8 x 40 7/8 in./72.6 x 104 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

Grace, strength, and determination—these unifying factors define Olympic resolve. And in this piece, the contrast between the frothing butterfly stroke and glassine waters dazzles the eye with hypnotic simplicity. The founder of the Nippon Design Center, Kamekura was one of a small group who helped chart the course of Japanese graphic art after World War II.

15. Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. 1982.
By Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
36 x 24 1/4 in./91.2 x 61.5 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

The Olympic Committee of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics commissioned 15 artists to create posters for the event, including David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg, Jennifer Bartlett, John Baldessari, and Roy Lichtenstein. The latter opted to adapt his 1975 painting, The Red Horsemen, in which Cubist jockeys are rendered with energetic motion. “The 1980s were marked by nonconformism, eccentricity, audacity and joie de vivre. All these elements are clearly expressed in the stylistic vocabulary chosen by the organizers of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, with its fun approach and acid colors” (Olympic Museum, Lausanne, 2017).

16. Atlanta Olympics. 1995.
By Primo Angeli (1931- )
22 x 34 in./55.8 x 86.3 cm
Est: $800-$1,000

The Atlanta Games—commemorated by Angeli in this officially sanctioned design that combines classic figure study with modernist, color-block flair—were far and away the largest modern era games ever held, with a record 197 nations competing. These Olympics had some of the best Olympic stories ever: Muhammad Ali’s return to the global stage as he ignited the Olympic cauldron; Kerri Strugg’s hobbled, gutsy final vault; and the horror of a terrorist bomb ripping apart a peaceful Friday evening in the Centennial Olympic Park, reminding the world of the tragedy of Munich in 1972. But as they did in ‘72, the games would go on, propelled by the fierce beauty of professional athleticism.

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