The Arts on the Stamps of the World — February 28

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


By Doug Briscoe

Rossini’s birthday falls on Leap Day, and I was planning to salute him this year on March 1, but that happens to be the birthday of Chopin (and a host of others), so I thought I’d share the wealth. Not that February 28 is devoid of other important figures in the arts, including Michel de Montaigne, Marcel Pagnol, and architect Frank Gehry, and we’ll begin with them.

The very personal essays of Michel de Montaigne (28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592) have had far-reaching effects on later (and even some of his contemporary) writers. In his hands the essay was transformed from a straightforward transmission of information and opinion to a graceful art form, marked by unprecedented candor and the tireless pursuit of trying to understand human nature.

The Kazakh bard Jambul Dzhabayev (28 [O.S. 16] February 1846 – 22 June 1945) just missed being a centenarian by eight months. He learned to play the dombra (a long-necked Turkic lute) as a child (his uncle was a famous player) and, according to some sources, left home at 14 to become an itinerant bard. He always sang in the Kazakh language only, but he lived long enough that his work after the 1917 Revolution brought him new fame as a Champion of the Cause, writing songs with titles like “Hymn of October”, “The Lenin Mausoleum”, and “Lenin and Stalin”. Dzhabayev is honored on stamps of the USSR (1971) and Kazakhstan (1996), as well as on a Soviet era postal card (1966). From a beautiful series of Soviet stamps displaying folk instruments of various regions (all of which are now independent countries), I give you the Kazakh dombra and a related instrument, the dutar of Turkmenistan.


Another musician of the Soviet era was Artur Kapp (1878 – 14 January 1952), who began studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory when he was only 13. He took composition with Rimsky-Korsakov in 1900. Thereafter he took up a career as organist and teacher, active in Astrakhan and Tallinn. His compositions, besides organ pieces, include five symphonies, an oratorio, Job, nearly a hundred choral works, and chamber music. Like Jambul Dzhabayev he has a postal card, issued in 1978 for his centennial.

The Spanish painter José Gutiérrez-Solana (1886 – 24 June 1945) was born in Madrid to a Mexican father who had relocated to Spain to collect an inheritance. An uncle was a drawing instructor, and it was from him that Solana got his first lessons. He moved in intellectual circles: an habitué of the Nuevo Café Levante, frequented by members of the literary fraternity known as Generación del ’98. A 1972 set of eight stamps is the source for four I’ve chosen to share with you today: Balladier, Mask Makers, The Book Collector, and Merchant Marine Captain. Solana was also a writer of travel books and a novel, Florencio Cornejo (1926).

Most sources give March 7 as the birthday of Turkish actor and director Muhsin Ertugrul, but Turkish Wikipedia, like the English-language version, gives 28 February, and it seems to me they should know. Whatever the day, the year was 1892 and the place was Istanbul. His first stage appearance was in 1909 as a character in the 1899 play Sherlock Holmes. He was the director of the Darülbedayi Theater from its opening in 1914. In the 1910s and 20s he also worked in Berlin with such figures as Max Reinhardt and F. W. Murnau. Ertugrul began directing films around 1919, and one of his earliest efforts was Die Teufelsanbeter (The Devil Worshippers, 1921) with Bela Lugosi. Both of Ertugrul’s marriages were to actresses whom he directed. The first died in 1943, the second survived her husband’s death, which occurred on 29 April 1979.


We remain in the cinema for French filmmaker Marcel Pagnol (1895 – 18 April 1974), likely best known for his trilogy of Marius (1931), Fanny (1932), and César (1936), but he was also a novelist whose Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources were exquisitely brought to the screen by Claude Berri in 1986. Just a few years later another pair of Pagnol’s novels, the autobiographical La Gloire de mon père and Le château de ma mère (both written in 1957 and received with acclaim) were lovingly made into beautiful films (1990) by Yves Robert. More recently actor/director Daniel Auteuil has refilmed Marius and Fanny (both in 2013). Marcel Pagnol was born near Marseille. His father was a schoolteacher, and so was Marcel, for a while, teaching English at a variety of schools. But in 1927 he decided to turn to playwriting, having already co-authored a play that was produced in 1924. One of his plays was Marius, which became the first in his famous filmic triad after he submitted the script to Paramount Pictures. Alexander Korda directed. The very next year Pagnol founded his own film studios near Marseille. He directed César himself, as well as a number of other films. In 1946, he was the first filmmaker to be elected to the Académie française. Pagnol also translated Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet) and Virgil (Eclogues) for French productions. For his stamp we turn again to the sheet from which we have already seen stamps for François Truffaut and Louis Feuillade; it shows a still from Pagnol’s comedy The Baker’s Wife (La femme du boulanger, 1938).


Architect Frank Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg to Eastern European Jewish parents living in Toronto. Even as a child, little Frank delighted in building miniature cities from scrap wood. He came with his family to California when he was about 18 and was graduated from USC’s School of Architecture. (He also attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design for a time.) He established Frank Gehry and Associates in Los Angeles in 1967 and Gehry Partners in 2001. When the US issued a sheet honoring American architects in 2005, the designer chose to represent Gehry with his Walt Disney Concert Hall, which had opened only two years earlier. Frank Gehry turns 88 today.

The Spaniard Juan de la Cosa, who died on this day in 1510, accompanied Columbus to the New World. Not only that, he was the owner and captain of the Santa María. We include him among today’s artists because of what he drew: the first world map to show the Americas. De la Cosa, who was born about 1450, was killed in a confrontation with indigenous people on the South American coast. Note that the stamps, besides the Spanish one, come from Nicaragua, the Congo, Cuba, and Cambodia!


Although his first name has traditionally been spelled with two Cs, Gioachino Rossini himself most often used only one. He was born on 29 February 1792 into a musical family in Pesaro, his father a horn player, his mother a singer. At age 13, Rossini himself sang on the stage—once and only once—in a performance of Paer’s Camilla in 1805. He was an able horn player and also studied the cello. He wrote a string of more than three dozen mostly successful operas but gave up composing for the stage after William Tell of 1829, thereafter, in his four remaining decades, writing mostly small scale pieces, many of them under the rubric “Sins of My Old Age”, for private performance. Exceptions are the grand Stabat Mater and the expansive (and pointed inaptly titled) Petite Messe Solennelle. He died on 13 November 1868 and is one of the many famous composers buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. (Another is tomorrow’s birthday boy Frédéric Chopin.)

Other Leap Day babies have been Jimmy Dorsey (1904 – June 12, 1957), Indian dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904 – 24 February 1986), and Dinah Shore (1916 – February 24, 1994), and on Leap Day 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar.

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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