Mar 252017

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


By Doug Briscoe

Recently, Arts Fuse editor Bill Marx mildly chastened me for including too many people and too many links on a single day’s post, advising “editorial restraint” and suggesting a limit of 20 persons. Today I have exactly 20. I expect he’ll grudgingly let me get away with it if I keep the text and pictures to a minimum.

Not only is the number of deserving artists unprecedented in this series (so far), but several of them truly are among the superstars of the arts: Arturo Toscanini, Flannery O’Connor, Béla Bartók, David Lean, Aretha Franklin, Simone Signoret, Elton John, all born on March 25! I think, for a change, rather than deal with them chronologically today we’ll go alphabetically, and to give you a heads-up, here’s the full list: Josef Albers, Béla Bartók, Gutzon Borglum, Jean Epstein, José Espronceda, Ettore Ferrari, Igor Grabar, Nicholas Hawksmoor (died on this date), Jean-Antoine Houdon, Elton John, King Konradin, David Lean, Gerald Murphy, Turlough O’Carolan (died on this date), Flannery O’Connor, Jaime Sabines, Simone Signoret, Elena Teodorini, Arturo Toscanini, and Patrick Troughton.


German artist and educator Josef Albers (March 25, 1888 – March 25, 1976) fled Nazism for the United States, teaching at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina until 1949, then at Yale.The German stamp of 1993 shows us Albers’s Homage to the Square of 1965.

Most of the stamps honoring composer Béla Bartók (25 March 1881 – 26 September 1945) come, not surprisingly, from his native Hungary. I know of seven, but will limit today’s display to the oldest (1955) and newest (2004) and eschew altogether the ones from other countries.

Gutzon Borglum (March 25, 1867 – March 6, 1941) was born to Danish immigrants in the Idaho Territory. His signal achievement, of course, was the carving of Mount Rushmore. The project got under in way in 1927 with a team of 400 workers and was completed by Borglum’s son, not surprisingly named Lincoln, after Borglum’s death.
French filmmaker Jean Epstein (March 25, 1897 – April 2, 1953) was also a literary critic and novelist. He directed three dozen films between 1922 and 1948, one of which, La Glace à trois faces (The Three-Sided Mirror, 1927), is referenced on a stamp from a 1986 sheet marking the 50th anniversary of France’s National Film Industry.

Spanish poet José de Espronceda (25 March 1808 – 23 May 1842) was quite a firebrand. At only 15 years of age he and some friends formed a group bent on unseating King Ferdinand VII in favor of a Republican government. He was permitted to return to Spain following a ten-year exile, which was spent in other western European nations. Besides his poems, he wrote a novel and a quasi-drama, El estudiante de Salamanca (The Student of Salamanca).

Just five days ago we saw stamps depicting a statue of Ovid made in 1887 by Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari (1845 – 19 August 1929). Today is Ferrari’s birthday. The original statue, you may recall, is found in Constanța, Romania, but a copy was made in 1925 that can be seen in Ferrari’s hometown of Sulmona in the Abruzzo. I thought I might be able to find a stamp showing Ferrari’s equestrian statue of Garibaldi, but no soap, so we “rerun” one of the Romanian stamps to spare you a mouse click.

Happy birthday to the inimitable Aretha Franklin (born March 25, 1942), seen on a stamp from a Tanzanian set honoring popular singers and musicians!

If only Russian post-impressionist painter Igor Grabar (25 March 1871 – 16 May 1960) had not been born on the same day as Bartók and Flannery O’Connor and Toscanini I could devote more space to his interesting story. As things are, we can’t tell you about his Ruthenian ethnicity, his family’s dangerous involvement in Hungarian politics, his education in Moscow (art) and St. Petersburg (law), his short stories, his illustrations of volumes of Gogol, his studies under Ilya Repin, his short-lived partnership in an art studio in Munich, his later work as an art historian and restorer, and so forth, and must merely point out that the stamp gives us his Self Portrait of 1947.


English architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, probably born in the year 1661, died on this date in 1736. Not only did he leave a substantial number of churches and other buildings on the English landscape (or in the London cityscape), but perhaps more significantly he contributed work to some of the greatest structures in the country: St. Pauls’ Cathedral (under Christopher Wren), Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard (under Vanbrugh, though Hawksmoor was the more knowledgeable “junior partner” and actually completed Blenheim after Vanbrugh was dismissed), and Westminster Abbey, for which Hawksmoor built the towers. Not honored on a stamp himself, Hawksmoor is here represented by stamps showing Blenheim and Westminster Abbey.

The work of French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (25 March 1741 – 15 July 1828) appears on many, many US stamps going back to the nineteenth century, as he came to this country in 1785 specifically to create busts of George Washington. But the Father of Our Country was by no means the only great figure who sat for Houdon: Diderot, Rousseau, Molière, Jefferson and Franklin, Louis XVI and Napoléon are among their number. Besides just a few of the Washington stamps, we can see stamps of his full-length Voltaire (from Russia’s Hermitage) and busts of Robert Fulton and French architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart as a child as well as a more personal portrait, Dilecta mea (My beloved) from the Cuban National Museum.

Happy birthday to Sir Elton John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947)! He appears on the same Tanzanian stamp sheet with Aretha Franklin, as well as on a few other worldwide stamps.

Young King Conrad or Konradin (25 March 1252 – 29 October 1268) bore many titles despite his very brief life: Duke of Swabia (1254–1268, as Conrad IV), King of Jerusalem (1254–1268, as Conrad III), and King of Sicily (1254–1258, de jure until 1268, as Conrad II). Technically he never succeeded to the crown in Germany but was recognized as such (Conrad V) in 1254 by the Hohenstaufens and their allies the Ghibellines. In the gorgeous and indispensible Codex Manesse, a songbook compiled in the early 14th century, there are two songs written by Konradin. The illustration on the stamp is taken from the Codex. The dynastic story is complicated, but Conrad led an army south to defend his title as King of Sicily and, after initial success, was defeated at the battle of Tagliacozzo, captured, and beheaded. He was sixteen years old and the last of the Hohenstaufens.

The great English director Sir David Lean (25 March 1908 – 16 April 1991) is indirectly honored on a recent British stamp for his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia.

Boston-born Gerald Murphy (March 25, 1888 – October 17, 1964) and his wife Sara Sherman Wiborg, both the scions of wealthy businessmen, threw Gatsbyesque parties for the Lost Generation on the French Riviera in the 20s. But Gerald also painted during that period (only), as can be seen on this stamp from a 2013 US sheet devoted to modern art. Murphy is represented with his proto-Pop-art Razor of 1924.

The exact date of the birth of the itinerant bard Turlough O’Carolan (Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin) is unknown (some time in 1670), but he died on this date in 1738. Some people regard him as Ireland’s national composer. He lost his eyesight to smallpox when he was eighteen and was only at that point apprenticed to a harper. Three years later he took up the itinerant life, crisscrossing Ireland for the next half-century performing. He wrote both songs and instrumental harp music.


The magnificent Flannery O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was honored for the first time on a US stamp just two years ago. Her novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) and story collections A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) are staples of twentieth-century American literature.

Mexican poet Jaime Sabines (March 25, 1926 – March 19, 1999) was born in Chiapas. He studied medicine before devoting himself to literature, producing over his lifetime ten volumes of poetry concentrating on everyday life. Sabines also served in government as a federal deputy.

French film star Simone Signoret (25 March 1921 – 30 September 1985) was the first person from France to win an Oscar (for Room at the Top, 1959). The Belgian and Nevisian stamps honor her work in Pierre Granier-Deferre’s film of Georges Simenon‘s 1967 novel Le Chat, while the French stamp acknowledges her entire body of work.

Soprano Elena Teodorini (1857 – 27 February 1926) was the first Romanian to perform at La Scala (1880). Two years later she sang at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. She obviously fell in love with South America, for she not only returned to give concerts in Montevideo in 1909, but in that same year, with opera greats Hariclea Darclée and Titta Ruffo, she founded the Academy Theodorini in Buenos Aires and went on to live in that city for many years, even becoming the director of the Conservatory there. One of her students was the great Bidú Sayão. Returning to Romania in 1922, she founded the Lyrical National Academy in Bucharest and died there four years later.

Some music lovers see Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957) as the greatest of all orchestra conductors. Of course, Italy honored him with a stamp years ago, as did the United States, given his longtime association with the New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony Orchestras, but so did Niger in 1982, on the 25th anniversary of his death. A newer Italian issue came out in 2007 for the fiftieth anniversary of the maestro’s death.

English actor Patrick Troughton (25 March 1920 – 28 March 1987) was the second of the twelve (and counting) Dr. Whos, which is why he has a stamp (all eleven pre-Peter Capaldi Doctors were portrayed on a set issued by the UK in 2013), but his face will be well known to film and TV aficionados generally. He was given roles in Olivier’s films of Hamlet (as the Player King) and Richard III (as the murderer Tyrell), and you may remember him as the Duke of Norfolk in The Six Wives of Henry VIII and perhaps as Father Brennan in The Omen (1976). I also learned that Troughton (uncredited) provided the voice of the BBC radio announcer in Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.

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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