Aug 092017

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


By Doug Briscoe


Pride of place today belongs to Hieronymus Bosch, born about 1450, who died on this date in 1516. Last year, for the 500th anniversary of his death, the Netherlands issued a large sheet of ten stamps showing a substantial detail from his Haywain triptych, thought to have been completed the year of his death. Other countries, Gambia, Grenada, Liberia, and Portugal, also commemorated the occasion. The Gambian and Liberian sheets, also on the first collage, focus respectively on The Garden of Earthly Delights (c1490-1510) and The Last Judgement (c1482), with the centerpiece of the latter showing the outer sides of the closed triptych. Meanwhile the Grenadan minisheet (second collage) offers up a portrait of the master attributed to Jacques Le Boucq and four different paintings on the stamps: Ecce homo (1475-85), St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1489), Christ Carrying the Cross (1505-07), and St. John the Evangelist on Patmos (1490-95). The single wide Portuguese stamp presents a small detail from The Temptation of St. Anthony (c1501). Oddly enough, the only older Bosch stamp I could find was one from Manama, with another detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights.


We salute Scottish civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford (9 August 1757 – 2 September 1834) on the 260th anniversary of his birth. A British stamp showing his Menai Suspension Bridge (1819-26) came out in 1968. For our purposes, it’s worth noting that Telford was also a published poet and author of a Scottish book of travel, the result of a tour he took with his friend the poet Robert Southey. Telford was born in poverty and apprenticed to a stonemason at 14; otherwise he was essentially self-taught. Through the influence of a wealthy patron he became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire and went on to built some forty bridges in the county. He also designed canals, including one for Sweden, the Göta Canal (1801-32) between Gothenburg and Stockholm. Telford was an industrious road-builder, and Southey wittily dubbed him The Colossus of Roads. As for the Menai Bridge, it was constructed to connect the island of Anglesey to the Welsh mainland. At 580 feet, it was longest suspension bridge of its day.

Born in Vienna, Emil Fuchs (9 August 1866 – 13 January 1929) began work as a sculptor and medallist. Living in London from 1897 to 1915, he began to study painting and was well acquainted with Lawrence Alma-Tadema and John Singer Sargent. His reputation grew to the point that he was asked to paint portraits of Queen Victoria and Edward VII, and his drawing of the king was used as the basis for the first Edwardian postage stamps. I show several of these. Because anti-German feeling rose high during World War I, Fuchs relocated to New York, working for the war effort when the US joined the conflict. He became a US citizen in 1924. To avoid a painful death from cancer he committed suicide with a pistol at the age of 62.

The American Impressionist Mary Agnes Yerkes (August 9, 1886 – November 8, 1989) was born near Chicago to well-to-do parents. After her father’s death, her mother commissioned a new house to be built that contained a studio for the teenaged Mary Agnes. She was not yet twenty when she had her first solo show in October 1915. Yerkes married a naval officer named Offley and wound up in California, which became the base for her paintings of the West. It appears she has but one stamp, and that from Mozambique! The painting selected is Moon Set and Sunrise Glow (1964). Yerkes also worked as a photographer and artisan and lived to the ripe old age of 103.


Another long-lived woman artist—though she reached only a mere 86—was Tove Jansson (9 August 1914 – 27 June 2001), a Swedish-speaking Finn who had her own first solo exhibition in 1943 at the age of 29. Although she also wrote novels and comic strips, she is probably best known as a children’s author, creator of the Moomins. A Moomin is shown on one of the stamps. (There was even a Moomin opera written in 1974 by Ilkka Kuusisto!) An earlier children’s book written when she was 14 was published five years later. After WWII Jansson also published five novels and a half dozen short story collections. For a sample of her painting I chose a Self-Portrait from 1940. This remarkably versatile woman also designed theater sets and murals for public spaces. As an illustrator Jansson (besides the work for the children’s books) contributed pieces to magazines, including one cartoon that has an uncannily strong political resonance today. It shows a whining baby Hitler being offered an assortment of cakes labeled “Belgium”, etc., while discarded cakes like “Alsace-Lorraine” and “Polish corridor” are strewn neglected around him.

The Portuguese artist Maria Keil (9 August 1914 – 10 June 2012) has been remembered on two of the stamps of her nation. Her career began in commercial art with posters, postcards, and brochures. She married the architect Francisco Keil do Amaral in 1933 and partnered with him in a number of projects. In the 1950s she was asked to design ceramic tilework for each of the stations in the new Lisbon metro system. One of these designs, for the Avenue Infante Santo station, appears on both the stamps. Another aspect of her work can be seen in her 1941 Self-Portrait. Maria Keil died two months shy of her 98th birthday.

American singer Whitney Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012) would have been 54 today. In the year of her untimely demise the nation of Uganda issued in her memory a beautiful foldout souvenir sheet, one I think is worth reproducing in its entirety.

Mulder and Scully show up on another African sheet, this one from Angola, and today is
Gillian Anderson’s birthday (born August 9, 1968). Born in Chicago, she grew up in London and Michigan. As to whether she primarily regards herself as British or American, she says, “I’m still a bit baffled.” Anderson is an art collector and a co-founder of South African Youth Education for Sustainability (SAYes). Last year she received the OBE.

On this day in 1930, the cartoon character Betty Boop first appeared in an animated short called Dizzy Dishes. Betty was inspired by the singer Helen Kane, although many people have assumed the model was Clara Bow. She is (to me) astonishingly popular on many stamps from all over the world…but none from the US! I selected examples from the Gambia, Niger, Mongolia, the Comoros Islands, and Chad.

There’s no stamp yet for English poet Philip Larkin (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985), who also wrote two early novels in 1946 and 1947.

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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