Jan 122017

An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.


By Doug Briscoe

Another rich day for philately in the arts, as we celebrate the birthdays of four painters: John Singer Sargent, 17th-century Spaniard Jusepe (or José) de Ribera, the Rococo Venetian Rosalba Carriera, and the fin-de-siècle Frenchman Jean Béraud. We also salute Jack London, Charles Perrault, and Irish statesman (but more to our purpose, writer and philosopher) Edmund Burke, all of whom share this January 12 birthday.

Appalling as it may seem, the United States has never issued a stamp in honor of one of its greatest artists, John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925). Perhaps Mr. Trump will remedy this in his first hundred days. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirate of Sharjah to the rescue! But even this is merely one of a group of stamps of selected American painters. Chosen to represent Sargent was The Portrait of Carolus-Duran of 1879.

Another figure in today’s post who “needs no introduction” is Jack London, born John Griffith Chaney on this date in 1876. In addition to the US stamp from 1986, there is one from the previous year from Niger, again drawn from a group. It’s not clear (at least, not to me) whether the book illustrated on this stamp is The Call of the Wild or White Fang. London died at 40 almost exactly a century ago on November 22, 1916.

In an earlier Arts Fuse piece in this series, we mentioned that much of the work of the Brothers Grimm had already been explored two centuries earlier by Charles Perrault (1628 – 16 May 1703). Both bodies of work have inspired generations of artists. For example, our January 6 piece used the image of a French stamp of Gustave Doré’s illustration for La Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard). The most famous musical examples from Perrault, I suppose, would be Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye (which last also uses other sources). The lovely French and Monesgasque stamps give us Puss in Boots (again from Doré) and Cinderella respectively.

José de Ribera (January 12, 1591 – September 2, 1652) was a Spanish painter known for his use of chiaroscuro. Born near Valencia, he came as a young man to Rome, where locals soon dubbed him “Lo Spagnoletto” (“the Little Spaniard”). Within a few years, Ribera had moved on to Naples, which was then part of the Spanish empire, and remained there for the rest of his life. I offer two of several Spanish stamps depicting details from Ribera’s work: Mary Magdalene in the Desert (1641) and Jacob’s Flock (c1638).


Another painter, Rosalba Carriera (1673 – 15 April 1757), began with miniatures for snuff-boxes and moved on to full-scale portraiture, much of it done in pastels. Her work was in great demand, not only in her native Venice, but throughout Italy and during her visits to Paris and Poland. Her Self-Portrait as an Old Woman (c1746) was selected for this 1974 Italian stamp. Sadly, she was blind for the last six years of her life.

I thought we might include the great Edmund Burke (1729 – 9 July 1797) among today’s Arts Fuse offerings, not for his statesmanship so much as for his treatise on aesthetics, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (published 1757, although Burke claimed to have written it before he was nineteen). In this philosophical/psychological study he explores the difference between those things that are beautiful (merely) and those that have the power to affect our emotions deeply, often by causing disquiet through associations of pain, danger, grief, or horror. To quote from the treatise: “When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful, as we every day experience.” The notion of the sublime was to form the basis of the impending Romantic movement in all the arts.

Jean Béraud (1848 – October 4, 1935) was a French painter of Paris society and nightlife of the Belle Époque. He often treated his subjects with some irony and even dared to paint religious figures in contemporary settings, not without raising some eyebrows. He also produced a number of characteristic Parisian cityscapes. His work nowadays, however, is largely overlooked. Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where his sculptor father was likely working on Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (I include a Russian stamp of that edifice for your edifice-cation), Béraud studied at the Lycée Condorcet (then known as the Lycée Bonaparte) and the École des Beaux-Arts, first exhibiting his work in 1872. The Comoros Islands issued two colorful souvenir sheets of his work in 2009. Unfortunately, I don’t own a copy of either and must resort to rather small images gleaned from the ‘Net. I should perhaps point out that in many of these daily Arts Fuse collages the stamps will not necessarily be to scale.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a B.A. in English, Doug Briscoe worked in Boston classical music radio, at WCRB, WGBH, and WBUR, for about 25 years, beginning in 1977. He has the curious distinction of having succeeded Robert J. Lurtsema twice, first as host of WGBH’s weekday morning classical music program in 1993, then as host of the weekend program when Robert J.’s health failed in 2000. Doug also wrote liner notes for several of the late Gunther Schuller’s GM Recordings releases as well as program notes for the Boston Classical Orchestra. For the past few years he’s been posting a Facebook “blog” of classical music on stamps of the world, which has now been expanded to encompass all the arts for The Arts Fuse.


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