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Mar 102017
 

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

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By Doug Briscoe

The more prominent artists born on March 10 were Josef von Eichendorff, Pablo de Sarasate, and Arthur Honegger. We also note the birthdays of Italian sculptor Giacomo Serpotta, English painter William Etty, Japanese painter Gakuryō Nakamura, and the extraordinary French polymath Boris Vian. But we begin with the great Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael, who died on this date in 1682.

Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael (born c. 1629) came from a family of painters, the most famous of whom, after Jacob himself, is his uncle Salomon. All of them were landscape artists, and Jacob is held to be the greatest, not only of the family, but of all his Dutch contemporaries. The 1999 stamp from the Netherlands copies Ruisdael’s Townscape of Haarlem.

The German poet Josef von Eichendorff (10 March 1788 – 26 November 1857) was one of the most admired of poets among German composers of the Romantic era, with at least 1340 settings by figures ranging in time from Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and Schumann through Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Reger, and Strauss to Othmar Schoeck, Korngold, and beyond. West Germany came out with a stamp in 1957 for the centenary of his death, and both Germanies produced issues—East Germany a souvenir sheet—for his birth bicentenary in 1988. Incidentally, another German poet born on this day was Friedrich Schlegel (1772 – 12 January 1829), the younger brother of August Schlegel, both leading figures in the Romantic movement, but to my amazement I was unable to find a stamp for either of them!

Pablo de Sarasate (1844 – 20 September 1908) was one of the great violin virtuosi of his day. His childhood gifts were such that he was admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of twelve. He made his debut at 16 and toured widely in Europe and the Americas. He made a few recordings in 1904. A number of violin pieces were written for him that are now in the standard repertoire: Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and Third Violin Concerto of Saint-Saëns, the Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch, and Wieniawski’s most famous score, his Violin Concerto no. 2. Sarasate himself composed for the violin, his best known works being the Carmen Fantasy and the Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs). His stamp was issued by Spain in 1977.

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Although he was born in Le Havre and lived mostly in Paris, Arthur Honegger (10 March 1892 – 27 November 1955) was Swiss. He studied with Widor and d’Indy. One of his most famous works, Pacific 231, composed in 1923, reflects his love of trains. “I have always loved locomotives passionately,” he said. “For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses.” Honegger wrote many film scores, including one for Abel Gance’s great 1927 epic Napoléon. (For a later restoration Honegger’s score was replaced with one by Carmine Coppola.) He joined the French Resistance during the occupation, but was mostly left unmolested by the Nazis. Among his most important works are five symphonies, his oratorios King David and Joan of Arc at the Stake, and much music for ballet. Among his works for the stage is an opera he co-wrote with Jacques Ibert. This opera, L’Aiglon (The Eaglet), had its première the day after Honegger’s birthday in 1937 and has been memorialized on a stamp we’ll see tomorrow. Today I give you Honegger stamps from France, Germany, and his native Switzerland.

Giacomo Serpotta (1652 – 27 February 1732) was born in Palermo and seems to have lived all his life in Sicily, though the influence of Bernini may have been absorbed during a visit to Rome. Serpotta seems, moreover, to have sprung fully armed from the head of Zeus in the sense that he has no known teachers other than his father. Yet he, his brother, and his son produced a substantial body of work of high quality for the churches of Sicily, Palermo in particular. He also made an equestrian statue of Charles II of Spain and Sicily, but this was lost during the 1848 revolution. His Italian Wikipedia page provides a long list of his works.

Another page in Italian provides a bit more information and includes a photo of the allegorical statue of Fortitude reproduced on the stamp (though we are not told where it can be found). A nice six-minute video of details of Serpotta’s work for Palermo’s Oratory of Santa Cita can be seen here.

English painter William Etty (10 March 1787 – 13 November 1849) is not to be confused with his early eighteenth-century architect namesake. Moreover, from the Somalian issue of four stamps showing Etty paintings you might get the wrong idea: Etty certainly painted a great many nudes in his allegorical, mythological, and historical canvases, but nudes were by no means his exclusive interest: he did tackle other subjects, it’s just that they don’t sell quite so successfully in the semi-philatelic marketplace. The four works seen here are: Musidora: The Bather At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed (1843); The Fairy of the Fountain (1845); Female Nude from behind (c.1835), and one of at least two versions Etty executed of Leda and the Swan.

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A painter born more than a century later and halfway around the world was Gakuryō Nakamura (1890 – 20 November 1969). Online information about him is very sketchy, and I was able to learn only that he was born in Shimoda on the south coast of Japan, attended the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, and at one point painted a banquet hall at the Imperial Palace. As can be seen in the stamp image, a reproduction of his work A Balloon Rising, Nakamura readily absorbed Western influences. From what I can gather he also turned to more experimental forms, adapting Surrealism, for example, to his own ends. More info would be welcome.

What a remarkable fellow was Boris Vian (10 March 1920 – 23 June 1959)! This French polymath worked as a writer (novelist, playwright, screenwriter), poet, musician (jazz trumpeter), singer, composer (he worked on an opera with Milhaud), translator (two Raymond Chandler novels and one by science fiction writer A.E. Van Vogt), critic, actor (in at least nine films, sometimes playing himself), inventor (of various whimsical devices, but also a patented elastic wheel), and engineer! Though he is most remembered today for the peculiar detective novel parodies he wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan, the Guinean souvenir sheet emphasizes Vian’s connection to jazz. He wrote reviews and articles on the subject and acted as Parisian liaison for Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Hoagy Carmichael. His most famous song, “Le Déserteur” (“The Deserter”) was banned until 1967. His invention the “pianocktail” was a mechanical piano that mixed drinks according to the keys played. Though an inveterate joker, Vian regarded the novels published under his own name as serious literature. He suffered from ill health throughout childhood, and a heart weakened from rheumatic fever and typhoid led to his early death at age 39.

Although I knew there was no American stamp for him, I’m a bit surprised not to find one from somewhere for Bix Beiderbecke (March 10, 1903 – August 6, 1931).


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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