The Art of talking about Art – 6: F for Football

Football season is here and all over the world. In keeping with the spirit of the season, let’s take a quick look at the art of football.

Football season is here and all over the world. In keeping with the spirit of the season, let’s take a quick look at the art of football.


Artist unknown, O Vincere o Morire (1950s)

We celebrate the underdog. And so we begin with one by the great artist unknown: A soccer poster ruefully commemorates the telegrams sent by Benito Mussolini to Italy’s players telling them they must “conquer or die” in the 1938 World Cup final in Paris. Luckily for them, they defeated Hungary 4-2. Italy had won the 1934 tournament on home ground.

1950s Original Italian Propaganda Sports Poster, Vincere o Morire


William Reginald Howe Browne, Wembley (1923)

The other day we watched England beat West Germany at Wembley on the telly; the only time England have won the World Cup. That was good old England at good old Wembley. Speaking of the old Wembley, here’s a painting that celebrates another great day at the grand old Wembley: The building of England’s Wembley Stadium was completed four days before it hosted the FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United on April 28, 1923. There was space for 127,000, but thousands more filled the terraces and spilled onto the field. Bolton won 2-0. The grand old Wembley was demolished in 2003 and replaced by the new one.

The BBC does a great job of making art interesting and getting more people interested in art. If you’re interested, you can get more on William Reginald Howe Browne here.


Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a Soccer Player (1913)

“Some people think football [soccer] is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.” Bill Shankly. William “Bill” Shankly OBE was a Scottish footballer and manager who is best known for his time as manager of Liverpool. He knew a thing or two about football. And so did Umberto Boccioni.

On Boccioni: Successive movements are simultaneous in the work of the foremost Italian Futurist painter and sculptor Boccioni, who synthesized time, place, and matter into vertiginous flurries of colour. His 1912 Elasticity, depicting the formidable energy of a horse, preceded 1913–14’s “Dynamism” series, which featured the human body, a cyclist, and “horse + houses,” as well as his speeding soccer player.

With stippled brushwork and kaleidoscopic color, the painting communicates the spirited energy of a youthful athlete.


Thomas Webster, Football or The Football Game (1839)

“Football is working class ballet.”- Alf Garnett. Alf Garnett is a fictional character from the 1960s & 1970s British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part and its follow-on and spin-off series in the 1980s and early 1990s Till Death… and In Sickness and in Health.

Did you know? Association football, or soccer, evolved from the English 12th-century mob sport played with a pig’s bladder and ritualized as a Shrove Tuesday festivity. Thomas Webster (1800–1886) was a popular Victorian painter of rural village scenes. In this one, and in at least two others, he depicts a rabble of boys bearing down on a nervous little goalkeeper.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of football from the 19th century, Thomas Webster’s painting was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy. (Oil on Canvas)


Du Jin, Chinese ladies playing cuju

Never count out the Chinese, right? Ask them, and they’ll say they invented football. Well, fact of the matter is the Chinese sport of cuju (“kick ball”) originated as a military training exercise during the Warring States period (476–221 B.C.). Oddly enough, unlike football and its working class following, cuju evolved into an upper-class pastime during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). This painting by Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin (active 1465–1509) shows female courtiers, apparently unbothered by their bound feet, playing cuju in a garden. Oh, those inscrutable Chinese!

The Chinese (as with many other things) were likely the first civilization to play an organized form of soccer under the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 221 CE)


There, now you know so many interesting things about the working class ballet that used to be a gentle pastime for upper class Chinese women with bound feet, apart from who called it the working class ballet. (Not Rooney.)

See how much we love football here.

Previous Editions:

Update: We have compiled the entire series of blog posts on The Art of Talking About Art in one place. To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.

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