This month, 90 years ago, saw the start of the first Winter Olympics. It’s also the first time you really see an art deco influence in the posters and medals. The main poster from the previous 1920 Olympics in Antwerp was more of a belle époque style, which had lost popularity by the first world war. Although it’s not surprising that the image was somewhat outdated, as it was originally created to support the Olympic bid in 1914.
Originally known as International Winter Sports Week, official posters promoting the event in Chamonix were produced by the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée (PLM) railway company. It was common at the time for rail companies to support the Olympics, both in promoting the event and in taking people to the destination. The poster most associated with the 1924 Winter Olympics was by Auguste Matisse and it depicted an eagle soaring above the bobsleigh track, but there were two other official posters, a skier jumping by Charles Hallo and a figure skater by Roger Soubie.
Matisse seems an unlikely choice in theory, he was mainly a seascape painter and was officially designated a “peintre de la marine” by the French minister of defence in 1919. However, his bold design clearly caught the attention of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the time.
Medals also bore an art deco influence. Being the first Winter Olympics, there was no preconception of medal design to be followed and engraver Raoul Benard’s winter athlete holding a pair of skates in one hand and a pair of skis in the other with Mont Blanc in the background, is much simpler than the summer medals that had to feature the goddess of victory. Even the inscription on the reverse uses a font very similar to those used in poster graphics at that time.
Two thousand copies of the medal were made in the Pairs mint and around five thousand posters of the soaring eagle were printed. Matisse’s poster was later chosen as the Image of the Games by the president of IOC, and I’m sure the fact that he was Swiss and that they won the gold in the bobsleigh had nothing to do with his choice. You can see them in action in the video below.