Aug 012017

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


By Doug Briscoe

We have four stamps for Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891), but I anticipate several more will appear for his bicentennial in 2019. Stay tuned. The existing U.S. issue came out in 1984, and further philatelic tributes have come from French Polynesia—which dubs Melville an “ecrivain du mer sud“—Niger, and Uruguay, with Ahab and his obsession nicely illustrated. (I myself finally read Moby Dick last year after putting it off for decades.)

According to German language Wikipedia, the Italian Gothic painter Gentile da Fabriano died on this date in 1427, but all other sources I checked are less precise, the English version offering only, “Gentile is known to have died before 14 October.” Since his birth date in unknown (c1370), we may as well pay tribute to him today. An attractive minisheet from Upper Volta (Burkino Faso since 1984) displays a detail from his Flight into Egypt, which forms the centerpiece of the predella beneath his Adoration of the Magi, shown (but barely discernable here) on the stamp from Sierra Leone. The entire altarpiece, commissioned by Palla Strozzi for Santa Trinita in Florence, can be seen here. (It should not be confused with an earlier Strozzi Altarpiece, one executed by Andrea Orcagna for the same family some seventy years earlier.) Da Fabriano was orphaned in his mid-teens, and the next we know of him is a Madonna he painted near the end of the 14th century. He was active in Venice, Brescia, and Florence. There, in 1423, he painted the above-mentioned altarpiece. In the succeeding years he made his way through Siena and Orvieto to Rome, where he spent his final days.

Another Italian painter, but from three centuries later, was Sebastiano Ricci (1 August 1659 – 15 May 1734), who was apparently, besides being an excellent artist, “bad news”. It was alleged that he tried to poison a young woman he impregnated in Bologna, then after marrying her (following a spell in jail), abandoned her and their daughter and ran off with another woman to Turin, where he was again imprisoned and almost executed. Both of his incarcerations were cut short by art-loving noblemen (in the latter instance the Duke of Parma). Thereafter he seems to have stayed out of trouble for the most part. He found employment in Rome, Milan, and Venice and was commissioned to paint frescoes for Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Florence, London, and Paris welcomed him. (In England, he created stained glass windows for Handel’s employer the Duke of Chandos, and in Paris he met Watteau and was admitted to the Royal Academy.) On the stamps, from Czechoslovakia, Romania, St. Lucia, and Hungary, we see a detail from Bacchus and Ariadne, Medoro and Angelica (characters from Ariosto), The Holy Family, and Bathsheba in her Bath (1724).


Japanese painter Sakai Hōitsu (1 August 1761 – 4 January 1828) was a representative of the Rinpa or Kōrin School. He was the son of a daimyō and became a Buddhist priest in 1797, living thereafter in seclusion. Among his most admired works is a series of folding screens depicting birds and flowers of the seasons, selected for a lovely minisheet from Micronesia. Hōitsu was also a calligrapher and wrote poems in the haiku and kyōka forms.

František Kmoch (1848-1912) was a sort of Czech counterpart to John Philip Sousa. He conducted a wind orchestra, the city music corps of Kolín, toured successfully with it, and wrote marches and other pieces for the ensemble. Kmoch also created a school of music attached to the corps. His marches are distinctive for the period in that they were deeply rooted in Czech folk tradition. He wrote about 500 short pieces. Since 1961 there has been a Kmoch Festival (Kmochův Kolín) in the city of Kolín.

French-Canadian author Anne Hébert (August 1, 1916 – January 22, 2000) was the daughter of a poet and critic and published her own first book of poetry, Les Songes en Équilibre, in 1942. She had difficulty publishing her short story collection Le Torrent, completed in 1945 but a tad scandalous for the time and not in print until 1950. Her first novel, Les Chambres de bois, came out in 1958. Hébert won Canada’s Governor General’s Award three times, for her novels Les enfants du sabbat (1975) and L’enfant chargé des songes (1992) and for a 1960 poetry collection.


The Israeli artist Paul Kor (August 1, 1926 – May 24, 2001) also wrote very popular children’s books with his own illustrations. Born in Paris to Polish parents named Kornowski, young Paul lost his father in the Holocaust and was smuggled into Switzerland with his brother. He studied art in Geneva and Paris and immigrated to Israel in 1948 and served as a volunteer in the Arab-Israeli war. Besides his paintings, he did much work as a graphic designer of posters and Israeli banknotes and postage stamps. We see his 1960 design to mark the opening of the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.

Meena Kumari (1 August 1933 – 31 March 1972) was one of the greatest stars of Hindi cinema. She acted in nearly a hundred films, of which a good number are considered classics of the genre. Born Mahjabeen Bano, she was a great-granddaughter of the younger brother of Rabindranath Tagore. Her father was an aspiring film actor who pressed his daughter into acting when she was four. At seven, she got her first important film role and was by that time the breadwinner of the family. She worked in many films as “Baby Meena” until she changed her name to Meena Kumari at thirteen. By the mid-1950s she was known as The Tragedy Queen. One of the highlights of her career was her performance in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam (The Master, The Wife and the Slave, 1962), produced by Guru Dutt. She also wrote poetry under the pseudonym Naaz. An unhappy marriage led to alcoholism, and Meena Kumari died of cirrhosis at the age of 38.

We’ve recently paid tribute here to fashion designers Oscar de a Renta and Ana Salazar, and today we have another, Yves Saint Laurent (1 August 1936 – 1 June 2008), though the stamps are not for him, but were rather created by him in 2000-01.

The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) has been celebrated on a number of foreign postage stamps. We see examples from Tanzania, Niger, and Montserrat.

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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