An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
The star of today’s admittedly brief lineup is surely American writer Thornton Wilder. We also salute a 17th-century Dutch painter, a near-centenarian Swedish composer, a Ukrainian portrait painter, and actor Sean Bean.
As the son of a diplomat (who was also a newspaper editor), Thornton Wilder (April 17, 1897 – December 7, 1975) grew up with his siblings, all of whom would lead distinguished careers, in China. Wilder had been born in Wisconsin and returned to the US (California) in 1912. He studied Italian and archaeology in Rome and earned an MA in French literature from Princeton. His second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), made his name and earned him the 1928 Pulitzer Prize. He would go on to win two more, for the plays Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). He had risen to the rank of corporal in World War I and made it to lieutenant colonel (Army Air Force Intelligence) in World War II. After the war he was Charles Eliot Norton professor at Harvard for a year. The USPS gave him a stamp for his centenary in 1997.
The important Dutch painter of still lifes Jan Davidszoon de Heem, sometimes called Johannes van Antwerpen, was born on or around 17 April 1606 in Utrecht. His work was in such demand that he was paid one of the highest fees of the time for a painting (his portrait of the future William III of England). His sons and apprentices helped considerably with the output of his studio. He died at some time before 26 April 1684. I found three different de Heem still lifes on stamps of three nations.
The exact date in May 1735 when Dmytro Levytsky was born remains unknown to us, so we pay tribute to him today on the 195th anniversary of his death (17 April 1822). He was born in Kiev and had to wait until he was 35 to achieve fame with his portrait of Russian architect Alexander Kokorinov. Although he drew many commissions thereafter, he was never well paid for his work and died in poverty. The Soviet stamp of 1972 shows his portrait of writer and philanthropist Nikolay Novikov.
Today is also the birthday of Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud (17 April 1897 – 27 March 1992). In 1948, he was bold enough to write new music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, which had already been done pretty well by Grieg. But give him points for chutzpah. He is a member of the Nine Symphonies Club (Beethoven, Schubert, Dvoøák, Bruckner, Mahler, Vaughan Williams…)
The original spelling of Sean Bean’s name was as “Shaun.” The English actor decided to alter the spelling at the beginning of his distinguished career in many productions. After many appearances on stage, in film, and on television, his first big break came with the BBC historical series Sharpe’s Rifles (1993) and its numerous successors. In recent years he’s been involved with two of the big franchises in fantasy dramatization: The Lord of the Rings as Boromir (as seen on the New Zealand stamp) and Game of Thrones as Ned Stark. Given the nature of the philatelic industry, if I may call it that, I remain amazed that there haven’t already been dozens and dozens of international Game of Thrones stamps, but I have been unable to find a single one, with or without Sean Bean. I imagine the series’ producers must be restricting the rights so as not too precipitately to kill the cow that squirts the golden milk. Anyway, happy birthday, Sean Bean (born 17 April 1959)!
Two very great seventeenth-century literati from Britain, English playwright John Ford (1586 – 1639) and Welsh poet Henry Vaughan (1622 – 1695), remain stampless. And happy birthday, Cynthia Ozick!
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.