An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Today’s edition of The Arts on Stamps of the World salutes Gottfried Leibniz, George Sand, Hans Werner Henze, and Charles Laughton, along with our series’ very first Vietnamese poet, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, painters Wojciech Gerson, Willard Metcalf, and Alberto Magnelli, and Estonian architect Jacques Rosenbaum.
The towering genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1 July 1646 [O.S. 21 June] – November 14, 1716) was not an artist in the strict sense, but his importance as a philosopher, at least, earns him a spot on today’s program. So I bow in humility and show all five of his (West and East) German stamps along with one from Romania.
Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin (1 July 1804 – 8 June 1876) is much better known to us as George Sand, the nom de plume she chose with which to send her prolific writings out into the world. The name was derived from an early lover, Jules Sandeau, with whom she collaborated on some stories under the pseudonym “Jules Sand”. A progressive and socialist, she fought for women’s rights and the emancipation of the lower classes. She daringly wore men’s clothes and smoked in public. Ivan Turgenev famously said of her, “What a brave man she was, and what a good woman.” Her output was enormous (she had a self-imposed schedule of writing twenty pages a day during set hours), and besides her many novels she wrote on politics as well as in the area of literary criticism. In addition to her own remarkable accomplishments she was, of course, the lover of Chopin, as well as of Alfred de Musset, Prosper Mérimée, and Louis Blanc, among others. I remember well a seven-part BBC miniseries about her called Notorious Woman (1974), in which she was portrayed by Rosemary Harris, with George Chakiris as Chopin, and Jeremy Irons as Liszt. (I can’t resist pointing out that de Musset was played by the actor Shane Briant, who—in the Six-Degrees-Of-Trivial-Coincidence Department—appeared in the 1982 TV movie of the Agatha Christie mystery Murder Is Easy opposite Olivia de Havilland, who turns 101 today! Alas, no stamp.)
The important German modernist composer Hans Werner Henze, who died five years ago on 27 October 2012, was born on this day in 1929. As I’ve said here before, certain countries (notably in Africa and Oceania) have for years earned considerable revenue by issuing elaborate stamps, often in the form of large souvenir sheets, designed not really for postage but primarily for collectors around the world. Mozambique is one such country. In 2013 Mozambique issued two eye-catching sheets to honor the late composer. I have extracted the single stamp from the first sheet and partially superimposed it over the second, for which the artwork depicts a scene from Henze’s stage works The Hoopoe (2003), Das Wundertheater (The Magic Theater, aka Bajazzo, Henze’s first opera; 1948), and Gogo No Eiko (1990).
Nguyễn Đình Chiểu (July 1, 1822 – July 3, 1888) was a blind poet of social and nationalist resistance. When in 1859 France took military action to acquire Cochinchina as a colony, Chiểu fled the town of Gia Định, where he had opened a school and was active as a teacher and practitioner of medicine, and went farther south to the Mekong region. Chiểu, who had lost his sight as a young man as the result of an eye infection, was of course unable to join the armed resistance, but he supported it vigorously with his words, even after the 1862 Treaty of Saigon that ceded the territory to France. Besides these efforts and many short poems, Chiểu’s three major works are his narrative poems Lục Vân Tiên (1851), a work beloved in Vietnam, and Dương Từ-Hà Mậu (begun 1854, but not published until a century later), and a treatise on Chinese medicine, dated about 1867.
Other than the two years of study in Paris (1856-8) and periods of travel, Polish painter Wojciech Gerson (July 1, 1831 – February 25, 1901) spent all his life in his native Warsaw. Beyond his creative work on the canvas, Gerson was one of the founders of an arts society and a teacher both at his own workshop and at the Warsaw School (later Academy) of Fine Arts, where he had many students who would become prominent artists in their own right. Gerson’s paintings were mainly of an historical or bucolic nature. One such is his Summer Rain, as seen on the Polish stamp from 1972. A photo of the artist can be seen here. Incidentally, another nineteenth-century Polish master, Piotr Michałowski, has a birthday tomorrow.
American artist Willard Metcalf (July 1, 1858 – March 9, 1925) came from Lowell and opened his Boston studio in 1876. He spent the years 1883-88 in Europe, Algeria, and Tunisia and held an exhibition in the St. Botolph Club on his return. He lived in Philadelphia and New York as an illustrator and portrait painter, later concentrating on the New England landscapes for which he is best known today. None of these, however, shows up on the two Metcalf stamps on today’s page. The first, from Burundi, combines the artist’s Self-Portrait of 1890 with The Ballet Dancers (aka The Dressing Room, 1885), while the stamp from Mozambique gives us his Old Mill, Pelago, Italy (1913). Two of his landscapes can be seen at the MFA: The Birches and The First Snow (both from 1906). Here’s a nice Willard Metcalf page that a genlteman named Jim Lane has put up on BlogSpot.
Estonian architect Jacques Rosenbaum (1 July 1878 – 6 January 1944) was born to a family of Baltic German, possibly Jewish descent. His grandfather had also been an architect. After studies in Riga Rosenbaum was named architect of the town of Tartu, but three years later, in 1907, moved on to Tallinn, where he remained, apart from a year’s stay in Greifswald, Germany, until 1928. One of the buildings he created in these years was the baroque/rococo-inspired Laupa Manor house (1910-13), selected for a series of Estonian stamps highlighting distinctive manor houses. Later, Rosenbaum’s life took an odd turn. He went back to Germany with his wife, and in 1932 both of them joined the Nazi Party. I wonder whether this may have been an attempt to forestall potential investigations into his possibly Jewish heritage? If so, it seems to have succeeded. He worked as a technician for the Luftwaffe, then for the Ministry of Armaments and War Production, and finally in occupied Riga for the Todt Organisation. His health failing, Rosenbaum died in Berlin (of natural causes) in 1944.
Florence-born Alberto Magnelli (1 July 1888 – 20 April 1971) was to some extent self-taught as an artist. His earlier work adopted a Fauvist style, then after meeting Picasso and Léger in Paris, turned to Cubism and Futurism. An opponent of Fascism, he left Italy for Paris in the early thirties and became friendly with Kandinsky and the Arps, whom he joined in Grasse following the Nazi invasion. He survived the war and lived for the rest of his life in the capital. Shown on the French stamp is his Virginia, which to my eye resembles (intentionally?) a panel of fitted glass.
I’m not crazy about the stamp for the great actor Charles Laughton (1 July 1899 – 15 December 1962), but it seems to be the only one in existence. He rarely wore a beard (as he did in The Island of Lost Souls, here cited), so the picture is uncharacteristic. Surely one of the great losses to the art of film occurred when Laughton, distressed by adverse criticism to his sole directorial effort, the masterpiece The Night of the Hunter, turned his back forever on directing.
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.