An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Mozart is king today, but January 27 is also the birthday of “Lewis Carroll”, Jerome Kern, and six other artists whose creativity has earned them representation on postage stamps of the world. In addition, as if that weren’t enough, we note the anniversaries of the premières of two operas and the death date of a Canadian photographer.
My own collection boasts nearly a hundred different Mozart stamps from forty countries. He is represented on stamps more than any other composer, even Beethoven. So we must perforce display only a small sample today, and I’ve simply chosen a few of my favorites, beginning with one from the world’s oldest set of composer stamps, issued by Austria in 1922. The one at second row left, from the Czech Republic, is an arresting design, and I love it, but it makes me think the artist’s concept of Mozart is more Tom Hulse than Wolfgang. The Guinea-Bissau stamp at upper right comes from a Mozart sheet I just acquired a few weeks ago.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832 – 14 January 1898), as everybody knows, adopted the pen name Lewis Carroll and wrote one—or actually two—of the most beloved stories in children’s literature. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, but its sequel Through the Looking-Glass did not appear in print until 1871. Although I know of no stamp directly honoring Dodgson, there are any number of Alice stamps, this one coming from a British set of 1979 remembering children’s literature. (We saw the Winnie-the-Pooh stamp from this same set on the 18th.) American composer David Del Tredici has been singularly Alice-centric in many of his works.
Some of the best known of the 700 melodies of Jerome Kern (1885 – November 11, 1945) include “Ol’ Man River,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “A Fine Romance.” Dozens of the musicals he wrote were hits, but nowadays only Show Boat retains a secure place in the active repertoire.
The 18th-century German architect Balthasar Neumann (1687 – 19 August 1753) is thought to have been born on the 27th, but all we know for he certain is that he was baptized on the 30th. As an apprentice, he worked at a bell and gun foundry, going on to study geometry, architecture, and land surveying. His first—and grandest—architectural work was on the splendid Würzburg Residence, on which other architects were also employed. The stamp next to the one showing Neumann’s picture gives us a glimpse of the main staircase of that imposing edifice. Among his other work were several churches, most notably the Vierzehnheiligen outside Bamberg, as well as artillery pieces (praise the saints and pass the grapeshot).
Russian satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (27 January [O.S. 15 January] 1826 – 10 May [O.S. 28 April] 1889) is a fascinating study. He was born into an old family, on his father’s side, and a rich one, on his mother’s. On their grand estate he saw at first hand the indignities and horrors of the serf system, which he later criticized with a trenchant pen. The quick-witted child could speak French and German by the time he was six, but quietly rebelled against the smug complaisancy and injustice of traditional class snobbery. Upon graduation he at once began contributing to the Russian magazine known as Otechestvenniye Zapiski (sometimes translated as “Annals of the Fatherland”) and would much later become its editor. One of several pseudonyms he adopted at this time was Nikolai Shchedrin. His social awareness was reflected in his first novella, called Contradictions, and by the revolutionary year of 1848 Saltykov had been arrested and deported to Vyatka. On the death of Nicholas I he was permitted to return to Saint Petersburg and even received an appointment to the Interior Ministry. His plays of the 1850s and 60s show that he was not exactly “reformed,” but he stayed clear of the militants who wanted to overthrow the government, and as such he thrived in the administration as well as in his enormous literary success. He continued to be viewed by many authorities as subversive, however, and was not allowed to start his own magazine in Moscow. His novels The History of a Town (1870) and The Golovlyov Family (1880) were scathing attacks on Russian social structure and on the institution of the family as it was in his day. A courageous and tireless seeker of social justice. The first stamp is from 1956; the second, issued for his sesquicentennial in 1976, reproduces a portrait of him done by Ivan Kramskoi in 1879.
The Ukrainian-born landscape painter Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi (or Kuinji) owes his unusual name to his Greek heritage (Άρχιππος) and a Tatar nickname (meaning “goldsmith”) given to his grandfather. Born on January 27 either in 1841 or 1842, he grew up in poverty and was orphaned at six. Having been given some basic education, he was employed mixing paints at an artist’s studio, then in retouching photographs. Kuindzhi then moved from Taganrog, where he had grown up, to Saint Petersburg and was able to study at the Academy of Arts there. His first success was with the painting The Snow, which he exhibited in 1873 and which won the bronze medal at the International Art Exhibition in London in 1874. He taught at the academy from 1892, but was terminated in 1897 for supporting the protests of the students. He died on July 24, 1910. The first stamp shows his 1879 work The Birch Grove, and the souvenir sheet, just issued last year (and here reduced in size), highlights his Night on the Dnieper of 1880.
An artist of a very different stripe was, to give him his full due, the Honourable John Maler Collier OBE RP ROI (1850 – 11 April 1934). He came from a well-established and well-to-do family, with several members prominent in government. Collier became intimate with the brilliant Thomas Huxley and married two (!) of that eminent gentleman’s daughters, the first of whom, Marian or “Mady”, was also a painter. She died of pneumonia before she was 30, and Collier wed her sister Ethel two years later. Collier became a leading portrait painter whose subjects included the Huxleys, members of the royal household, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Darwin, Lawrence Alma-Tadema (see our Arts Fuse piece of January 8), Ellen Terry, and Lord Kitchener. Otherwise he painted historical and legendary works in the Pre-Raphaelite style, such as his gorgeous Lady Godiva (1898), A glass of wine with Caesar Borgia (1893), and Tannhäuser in the Venusberg (1901), which last we see on this stamp I chose from a souvenir sheet of four issued by Somalia.
Next we come to Pavel Petrovich Bazhov (1879 – 3 December 1950), a Russian writer whose most celebrated work is a collection of fairy tales caled The Malachite Box, based on folklore of the Urals. One of these, “The Stone Flower”, was the basis of Prokofiev’s 1954 ballet of that name. (The same story had been used for a ballet by composer Alexander Fridlender just ten years earlier, and in the meantime, an opera by Kirill Molchanov had appeared in 1950!) The story is one of those chosen for illustration in a lovely strip of three stamps printed in 2004. Pavel Bazhov also wrote histories of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Civil War, in which he took part, and was much championed by the Soviets, even being elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1946.
Yet another painter born on January 27 was the Japanese artist Maeda Renzo (1885 – October 29, 1977), who is better known by his pseudonym, Seison Maeda. He belongs to the nihonga school of painting, that is, painting consistent with traditional Japanese style, as opposed to the Western-influenced Yōga school. (The term derives from the 19th-century Meiji period.) Maeda is held to be one of the greatest of modern Japanese painters. The stamp gives us one of his most celebrated works, Yoritomo in a Cave (1929), reflecting an event from 12th-century Japanese history.
Biographical information for the Bulgarian soprano Tsvetana Tabakova seems scarce. Born 27 January 1905 in Breznik, she began working regularly at the Sofia National Opera in 1924. When Feodor Chaliapin saw her there, he invited her to perform with him at Covent Garden in the role of Yaroslava in Borodin’s Prince Igor. Tabakova died suddenly on November 6, 1936, at the age of 31. I have not been able to learn the cause.
The birth date of Alexander Henderson (born 1831) is unknown. He died on this day in 1913. Henderson was born to a wealthy landowning family in Scotland. Just days after his marriage in 1855, he and his wife honeymooned in Canada. He took up photography in 1857 and was drawn to the grand scenes of both nature and industry on the North American continent. Best known for his landscapes, he also took many pictures of city life. He opened a studio in Montreal and, after a busy life of travel, work, and exhibitions, died there on April 4, 1913, aged 82. Sadly, most of his work is now lost.
Hungarian composer Ferenc Erkel’s most celebrated opera, Hunyadi László, was first performed at Budapest on this date in 1844, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov was first presented complete on 27 January 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre. (Three scenes from the opera had previously been performed on 5 February 1873.)
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.