An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Another great Italian Renaissance painter tops our list today, even though it’s not his birthday. Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese, died on this date in 1588. The birthday roster, meanwhile, is full: Spanish playwright José Echegaray, Russian painter Grigoriy Myasoyedov, French composer Germaine Tailleferre, Austrian artist and prolific stamp designer Otto Zeiller, Colombian artist Fernando Botero, the hugely talented Dudley Moore, movie stars Jayne Mansfield and Hayden Christensen, and chess grandmaster Susan Polgar.
Veronese was born in 1528 in—you guessed it—Verona. He specialized in religious and mythological subjects, and mythology is the concern of the two souvenir sheets at the center of our display. In the Djibouti sheet we have Leda and the Swan (date unknown) and Venus, Mars, and Love with a Horse (1575?), while the Russian sheet shows Diana the huntress (c1560). The individual stamps sprinkled around the corners of these sheets are, first, a representation of the Master himself from an Italian series and a small detail from Adoration of the Magi (1573) on a stamp from British Honduras, as Belize used to be called. At bottom left The Sacrifice of Isaac (c1586) and at right the Pietà (1576–1582). Moving on to the Russian minisheet, we see at top left Venus and Adonis (1580) on a Paraguayan stamp, and at right the central detail of one of Veronese’s most celebrated works, The Wedding at Cana (1563). This is not actually a stamp, but a cover for a recent French booklet of art stamps. At bottom left a reprise of Adoration of the Magi, this time on a stamp from Grenada, and at bottom right Apotheosis of Venice (1585).
About a month ago on the birthday of Paul Heyse I mentioned that he was, at the age of 80, one of the eldest people ever awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. José Echegaray (19 April 1832 – 4 September 1916) was older still, 82. A brilliant polymath, Madrid-born Echegaray loved both great literature and mathematics and earned his degree in civil engineering. He picked up another one in economics, one might add. He taught hydraulics, geometry, and calculus for years, wrote more than two dozen volumes on mathematical physics, and worked in public service as both Minister of Public Works and Finance Minister (successively). But more to our purpose here on The Arts of Stamps of the World, he is regarded as one of the most important Spanish dramatists of his day. Of his seventy plays in verse and prose the most highly regarded is El gran Galeoto (The Great Galeoto, 1881). His Nobel Prize was shared with Frédéric Mistral in 1904, and both of them appear together with that year’s Physics winner, the Baron Rayleigh, on the Swedish stamp from 1964.
Grigoriy Grigorievich Myasoyedov (19 April 1834 – 31 December 1911) was a painter of the Realist school and a co-founder of a group called the Peredvizhniki, or Wanderers. These artists chafed under the strictures of the Imperial Academy, and their numbers grew significantly, the most important of them being Ilya Repin. In 1870 they started calling themselves the Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions. We’ve already seen several of these artists in these pages since the start of the year, including Kuindzhi, Makovsky, Shishkin, and Surikov. Shown today is Myasoyedov’s Busy Time for the Mowers of 1887.
Today is the 125th anniversary of the birth of composer Germaine Tailleferre (19 April 1892 – 7 November 1983), the only female member of the group Les Six. Her birth name was Marcelle Taillefesse, but she changed it to get back at her father for failing to support her musical pursuits. She met the other members of Les Six (Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Louis Durey, and Arthur Honegger) at the Paris Conservatory and won several prizes there. She also became close with Ravel, but moved to New York for a couple of years when she married the American caricaturist Ralph Barton (she was his fourth wife). That marriage soon ended in divorce (Barton was manic-depressive), and except for the war years, when she lived in Philadelphia, Tailleferre spent the rest of her long life in France. Her best known works date from the 1920s and 30s, but she continued to compose right up to the end.
The Austrian artist Otto Zeiller (1913 – 16 April 1988) turned to stamp design rather late in life (he was nearly fifty). In his youth he had studied drawing and photography. For him tuberculosis was something of a blessing in disguise, as it got him released from military service in 1941. After the war he painted landscapes, portraits, and works related to archaeological studies. His largest work was an historical painting, Historic Vienna Before the Second Siege of the Turks for the city’s Hotel Royal. It was only in 1962 that Zeiller began his extensive work in stamp design, creating some 200 stamps for Austria, Liechtenstein, and the Vatican. I felt it incumbent upon me to show several of the commonly encountered (but no less beautiful for their profusion) Scenic Austria definitives from the mid-1970s, then I selected a second row of some of my own favorites, center position going to the gorgeous Riesenburg Castle. As an example of the variety of Zeiller’s work (not just landscapes and buildings), I include his tribute to Alfred Fried, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1911.
One of the best known living artists from South America is Fernando Botero (born 19 April 1932 in Medellín, Colombia). Botero’s father died when he was four, and his uncle thought it would be good idea for twelve-year-old Fernando to go to a school for matadors. When he was sixteen, Botero sold some illustrations to a major Medellín newspaper and took part in an exhibition. He worked in stage design and had his first one-man show in Bogotá in 1951. His most characteristic paintings and sculptures are of, shall we say, portly human and animal figures, as in Tres Músicos of 1983 and The Dancers of 1987.
Born exactly one year after Botero was the photogenic Jayne Mansfield (née Vera Jayne Palmer; 1933 – June 29, 1967). Three facts about her have tended to obliterate all the others: she was the first mainstream movie star to have a nude scene (Promises! Promises! of 1963), she was the mother of Mariska Hargitay, and she was killed in an auto accident at the age of 34, with three-year-old Mariska and her two elder brothers in the back seat. Jayne Mansfield has an entire stamp sheet from Somalia, one of those countries that earns much needed income by printing stamps (often postally nonviable) of the rich and famous.
By contrast, the British stamp for Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (19 April 1935 – 27 March 2002) is the Genuine Article (though it no doubt will have earned no mean income itself). Moore was born with two club feet and a brain that more than compensated. His musical gifts earned him a scholarship to Oxford, where he met Alan Bennett, one of his future partners, with Cook and Jonathan Miller, in the immortal Beyond the Fringe. (He continued his on-and-off comedy partnership with Cook for years after the demise of Beyond the Fringe.) Moore loved jazz, but could adopt a variety of styles, and one of the most ingenious and “spot-on” parodies I’ve ever seen is the one he did of a faux Peter Pears singing a faux Benjamin Britten folk song. But that magnificent brain was afflicted with the cruelly disabling disease progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which claimed his life a few weeks before his 67th birthday.
The Hungarian-born American chess player Susan Polgar (born April 19, 1969) was the first woman to win international grandmaster status (though Nona Gaprindashvili had been given the title by special judgment before her). Having established here on the Arts Fuse that chess is an art form with stamps for Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, we follow suit (uh, excuse me, pursue the attack) with one from the Ivory Coast for Susan Polgar.
Canadian actor Hayden Christensen (born April 19, 1981) played the young Annakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episodes II and III. Another British stamp that features Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid in his Emperor makeup also gives us just a glimpse of a lightsaber-wielding Mr. Christensen.
For the third day in a row we lament the absence from stamps of another great English playwright and poet of the Elizabethan/Jacobean age! Today’s addition to the list, following John Ford and Thomas Middleton, is Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset. It’s not his birthday, which is apparently unknown (some time in 1536), but he died on 19 April 1608.
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.