The Arts on the Stamps of the World — January 23

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


By Doug Briscoe

Today’s birthday subjects on stamps of the world are Manet, Stendhal, and Django Reinhardt, along with French architect Auguste de Montferrand, Norwegian writer Camilla Collett, and Belgian mystery writer Stanislas-André Steeman.


The beloved paintings of Édouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883) have been reproduced on so many stamps of the world that I can’t resist presenting an entire collage devoted to them (still omitting many others). In the top row are Fruits sur une table (1864) on a stamp from Niger, and two 1874 works: Mme Manet on a blue sofa on a 1962 French issue, and Manet’s portrait of his colleague Claude Monet dans son atelier on a 1982 stamp from Benin. The second row consists entirely of recent French stamps, just out within the last couple of years as part of an expansive and ongoing series of French art works: Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets (1872) (for a salute to Morisot, see The Arts Fuse item posted on January 14th), Sur la plage (1873), the famous Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863), and Vase with Whitsun roses (Vase de pivoines sur piédouche) of 1864. An Argentine stamp begins the third row with The Nymph Surprised (La Nymphe surprise, 1861), then we have another of Manet’s best known works, Young Flautist, or The Fifer (1866) on a stamp from the Malagasy Republic, two stamps from a set of seven issued by the Qu’aiti State in Hadhramaut, a sultanate in southern Arabia that is now part of Yemen: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) and Nana (1877), and at the end of the row the man himself in a French issue from 1952. The bottom row begins with a Soviet stamp showing a self-portrait of 1879, then moves on to 1869’s Boy with soap bubbles on a stamp from Dubai, the 1868 portrait of Zola on a Rwandan issue, and finally, an item from Hungary, Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s mistress, reclining (aka Lady with a fan).

Stendhal (1783 – 23 March 1842) was the pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle. His best known works are the great novels The Red and the Black (1830) and The Charterhouse of Parma (1839). In his earlier life he had served in the Napoleonic wars in Italy and even witnessed the burning of Moscow. Happily for him and for posterity, Stendhal was ordered away prior to the disastrous retreat of Napoleon’s army from Russia. After the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Stendhal left Paris for Milan and lived much of the rest of his life in Italy. In an example of cross-pollination in the arts, he wrote a biography of Rossini in 1824; and in another, he wrote a History of Painting (1817), published under his own name of Beyle, the only one of his works to be so published. Thereafter he adopted the nom de plume Stendhal, derived from the name of a German town. In order to teach himself English, he memorized sections of Oliver Goldsmith’s classic novel The Vicar of Wakefield. His extreme physical reaction to the overwhelming experience of encountering Florence was diagnosed in 1979 as Stendhal’s syndrome, aka hyperkulturemia, described by Wikipedia as “a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art”! Arts Fuse readers beware!

Django Reinhardt (1910 – 16 May 1953) has the distinction of being, again to quote Wikipedia, “the first and most significant jazz talent to emerge from Europe of Romani ethnicity.” Born in Belgium, Reinhardt grew up in Gypsy encampments near Paris. Members of his family were amateur musicians, and Django (Romani for “I awake”) was given a banjo when he was 12. He made recordings as early as 1927. Shortly after this he was severely burned in a home fire that permanently left him without the use of the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand, nevertheless many aficionados still see him as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. With Stéphane Grappelli, he created the historic Hot Club (Quintette du Hot Club de France) in 1934. On the coming of World War II, Reinhardt, who had been touring in the UK, immediately came back to Paris and remained in France throughout the war, managing to evade the fate of hundreds of thousands of European Gypsies who fell victim to the Third Reich. He did twice try to flee France, but was turned back on both occasions. After the war he toured the United States with Duke Ellington’s band. He died unexpectedly of a stroke at the age of 43. Django Reinhardt composed nearly a hundred songs, including “Minor Swing”, “Daphne”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ’42”, and “Nuages”. His son, Babik Reinhardt (1944–2001), was also a jazz guitarist.


The other day I mentioned here that the French painter Jean Béraud was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, because his sculptor father was likely working on Saint Isaac’s Cathedral there. Well, it so happens, I just discovered, that today is the birthday of the architect for that project, Auguste de Montferrand (1786 – July 10, 1858), whose name was hitherto unknown to me. The cathedral, completed in the year of Montferrand’s death, is one of his two best known works, the other being the Alexander Column created in 1832 to memorialize Tsar Alexander I. The reason that Montferrand ended up in Russia in the first place was the dearth of work available in France following the Napoleonic Wars. (Like Stendhal, Montferrand had taken part in the conflict, having been drafted into the army and fought in the Battle of Hanau, for which he earned the Légion d’honneur.) Besides his work for Petersburg, Montferrand also designed buildings in Moscow, Odessa, and Nizhny Novgorod. The little stamp showing Saint Isaac’s is superimposed on a souvenir sheet for Alexander I reproducing the tsar’s portrait alongside the column designed by Montferrand.

The writer Jacobine Camilla Collett (née Wergeland; 1813 – 6 March 1895) is hailed as a pioneer of realism in Norwegian literature and as perhaps the first Norwegian feminist. Her brother was the poet Henrik Wergeland, who was strongly at odds with Camilla’s lover Johan Sebastian Welhaven in a curious troika that resonates in Norwegian literary history. She subsequently broke up with Welhaven and married a politician and critic named Peter Jonas Collett; this proved to have been a happy union emotionally and intellectually. But his sudden death in 1851 left her impecunious for the rest of her life. Camilla Collett wrote just one novel, her most renowned work, Amtmandens Døtre (The District Governor’s Daughters, 1854-55), which deals with women’s issues, particularly the odious tradition of forced marriage.

The stamp for Stanislas-André Steeman (1908 – 15 December 1970) gives us a still from a movie based on one of his mystery novels, The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (1939), directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1942. Clouzot went on to direct another Steeman novel, Légitime défense, as Quai des Orfèvres in 1947. Steeman also worked as a journalist and illustrator.

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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