Charles de Coubertin (1822-1908) was in fact the father of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), the man behind the creation of the Olympic Games of the modern era. Charles de Coubertin was a painter who was particularly interested in scenes with an oriental theme (he travelled in the Middle East in 1848 and 1849) and religious subjects. He also painted pictures of landscapes – with a particular interest in Normandy – and family portraits. It was quite late in his life that his son Pierre persuaded him to take an interest in sporting scenes and representations of Olympism. This "Allégorie au sport" was thus part of that creative phase.
The date this work was painted – 1896 – coincided with a key date in Olympic history, with the first edition of the modern Olympic Games being held in Athens from 6 to 15 April 1896. This was also the time that the International Olympic Committee was officially created.
The subject of this work in fact reflects this transition from the ancient Olympic Games to their modern counterpart. We can see a representation of the goddess Athena sitting in front of the ruins of the Erechtheion (the temple dedicated to Erichthonios, the founder of Athens), crowning a victorious athlete as Apollo looks on. Those watching include various types of people: citizens of the ancient city of Athens, but also athletes in contemporary dress, representing the sports in fashion at the end of the 19th century (fencing, polo, cycling, etc.).
This work, which forms a link between two major periods of Olympism, was much appreciated by Pierre de Coubertin, who used it on the cover page of the IOC’s Revue Officielle from 1901 to 1914.