From the aristocratic cricketers painted by Benjamin West to George Bellows’s boxers and the baseball players that crowd the canvases of Jacob Lawrence, Andy Warhol, and hundreds of other painters, sports have played a central role in the drama of American art. It has long been common knowledge that Winslow Homer portrayed hunters and fishermen as well as croquet players in his work and that Thomas Eakins was obsessed by the muscular male bodies of swimmers, oarsmen, boxers, and wrestlers. Yet art historians have given only passing notice to many other examples of the American artist’s fascination with sports, such as Charles Sheeler’s yachts, the cyclists painted by Lyonel Feininger and Edward Hopper, Fairfield Porter’s Tennis Game, and Roy Lichtenstein’s Red Horseman.
In this book, award-winning sports historian Allen Guttmann examines the entire history of sports-themed American art from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century. Describing his effort as an exercise in contextualization, he documents the parallel evolution of sports and art as two intimately related aspects of American culture, each shedding light on the other. Guttmann demonstrates not only that knowledge of sports history greatly enhances our appreciation of sports-themed art, but also that our artists provide us with fresh insights into what it means when we “do” sports.