The Arts on the Stamps of the World — February 15

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


By Doug Briscoe

Composers three, painters two, a writer, and the creator of a certain TV program are today’s Arts Fuse fare. We also mark the anniversary of a Verdi opera and of the world’s most famous waltz.

Charles-André (or Carle) van Loo (15 February 1705 – 15 July 1765) is more famous than his older brother Jean-Baptiste, his father Louis-Abraham, or his grandfather Jacob, painters all. Born in Nice, active in Turin, Rome, and, uh, Sardinia, he studied in Paris, winning first prizes for drawing (1723) and historical painting (1727). The reason he went to Sardinia was on commission from King Victor Amadeus II to paint a number of pictures based on Tasso. Back in France, he became a favorite of Madame de Pompadour and in 1762 was honored with the title of First Painter to Louis XV. Here we see his Adoration of the Magi (c1760), currently housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A better view of it can he had here
Pianist, composer, teacher, and editor of the works of Gottschalk, the Cuban Nicolás Ruiz Espadero (1832 – 30 August 1890) was an eccentric’s eccentric. He was largely self-taught and never even attended school. He was a recluse who owned seventeen cats and took alcohol baths. He never left Cuba, rarely left his native Havana, and gave only a few concerts. Despite his pathological shyness, however, he was the most famous Cuban composer of his day and the only one at that time whose music had been published abroad. In the eyes of his compatriots he was the only Cuban composer who could compare favorably with those of Europe. And yet none of his music was published during his lifetime. He was perhaps the only important Cuban composer who entirely eschewed black Cuban musical influences. Espadero’s father forbade him from piano lessons of more than half an hour, but his mother ignored the prohibition and allowed young Nicolás several hours’ practice daily. (Espadero did study with Chopin’s friend Julian Fontana, who came to Havana in 1844 and gave the first public Chopin performances in the country.) Forty-six years later, Espadero met a horrible end: after one of his habitual alcohol baths he tried, still wet, to put out a gas light and was engulfed in flames, dying eight days later. His estate was broken up, and many of his manuscripts disappeared. A CD of his piano pieces came out in 2006.

The name of Romanian historian and politician Vasile Alexandrescu Urechia is most commonly rendered as V. A. Urechia, but there are several different spellings and variants. He gets a mention on our Arts Fuse page because of his historical fiction and plays, but his primary importance lies in politics. The stamp with his image was issued not so much to commemorate the man himself but rather his participation in Romania’s entry into the Interparliamentary Union of 1889. As for literature, Urechia (born Vasile Alexandrescu on February 15, 1834) was involved in a decade-long contrariety with the conservative literary society known as Junimea (Youth), whose members included the Romanian national poet Mihai Eminescu and one of our subjects from the day before yesterday, I. L. Caragiale. The details of the difference of opinion as to how best to promote Romanian culture are too abstruse for my grasp, but interested parties can investigate the matter further on Wikipedia if so inclined. Let it suffice to say that Urechia, an ideologue, favored a Pan-Latinist “Romanianism” as reflected, one supposes, in his novels and plays on Romanian history, one of which, his first novel, was a story on Romani slavery in Moldavia called Mariuca’s Cabin (1855). Its inspirational provenance may be guessed at if one were to suggest a modified title: Uncle Mariuca’s Cabin. V. A. Urechia died on November 21, 1901.

Our next subject was also a Romanian: the painter Ion Andreescu (1850 – 22 October 1882). After study and some teaching in his homeland, Andreescu, having been awarded a travel scholarship, betook himself to Paris, where he painted Winter in Barbizon in 1881. His work was exhibited alongside that of Manet, Monet, and Renoir. Alas, Andreescu was afflicted with tuberculosis, and returned to Romania where, the following year, he painted this Self-Portrait and died at the age of 32.


Georges Auric (1899 – 23 July 1983), a child prodigy, studied at the Paris Conservatoire and under d’Indy and Roussel. He became a protégé of Satie and one of the members of Les Six and, beginning in 1930, wrote scores for a considerable number of distinguished films, mostly French and British, though he also wrote ballet, incidental music, chamber and piano pieces, and songs. He wrote eleven film scores for Jean Cocteau, notably Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Orpheus (1950). His other film music includes scores for Passport to Pimlico (1948), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), The Wages of Fear (1953), Lola Montes (1955), Rififi (1955), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), and The Innocents (1961). Among his most popular scores is the one for Moulin Rouge (1952), which includes the hit song “Where Is Your Heart?”. On a personal note, I had the pleasure, while still in my teens, of meeting the author of Moulin Rouge, Pierre La Mure, a delightful gentleman of much erudition. He also wrote novels in English about Mendelssohn (Beyond Desire) and Debussy (Claire de Lune). I have read only Beyond Desire, which is elegantly written in beautiful English but highly fictionalized. Auric was in later life also director of the Opéra National de Paris and chairman of the French Performing Rights Society SACEM.

Some of the 500 songs composed by Harold Arlen (1905 – April 23, 1986) include “Get Happy”, “Let’s Fall in Love”, and “Stormy Weather”, all with lyrics by Ted Koehler; “Out of this World”, “That Old Black Magic”, and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” with Johnny Mercer; and all the songs for The Wizard of Oz with Yip Harburg (look for his stamp on April 8). He and Harburg also collaborated on “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” for Groucho Marx. Arlen was born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo. His father was a cantor, and young Hyman learned piano, formed his own band, and then worked in vaudeville in New York City, where he changed his name. He can be heard as a band vocalist on records by such figures as Joe Venuti and Eddie Duchin. He wrote music for the Cotton Club and then went off to the movies. Harold Arlen would be immortal even if he’d never written anything other than “Over the Rainbow”, listed as Number One on the “Songs of the Century” list put together by the Recording Industry Association of America and the NEA as well as on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Songs.”

Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc, on the stamp as La Pucelle d’Orléans) was premiered on this day in 1845 at La Scala in Milan. Exactly 22 years later, Johann Strauss Jr’s most enduring waltz set, “On the Beautiful Blue Danube”, was first heard in its original version with male chorus. A hundred years after that, the stamp was issued.

A tip of the hat (and a wag of the finger) to Matt Groening (born 1954), the creator of The Simpsons, on the air since 1989 and immortalized on stamps issued for the 20th anniversary of the show.

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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