The Arts on the Stamps of the World — May 19

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


By Doug Briscoe

Only five individuals on our agenda today, the most famous being Nellie Melba. The other four are painter Jacob Jordaens, composer Arthur Meulemans, pianist Alie Lindberg, and sculptor Ion Jalea.

Dame Nellie Melba (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931) was born Helen Porter Mitchell. She took her stage name from her home town, Melbourne. She was the first Australian to earn an international reputation in classical music, the first to appear on the cover of Time magazine (April 1927), and the first Australian woman to be featured on an Australian postage stamp (upper left, 1961; yes, 1961!). Peach Melba and Melba toast are both named for her. Downton Abbey fans may recall that Melba was portrayed by Kiri Te Kanawa in the fourth season of the series.


The lion’s share of our images today is given over to Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens (19 May 1593 – 18 October 1678) of Antwerp, who was, after Rubens and van Dyck, the most prominent painter of his time and place. Unlike many other important artists, he did not travel much, never going to Italy nor, for that matter, leaving the Low Countries. Besides his paintings (religious, historical, mythological, and portraits) and altarpieces, Jordaens was active as a tapestry designer. What we see here are a monochrome detail from one of his self-portraits; then The King Drinks (c1640) on a stamp from Paraguay; The Hunt and Summer on stamps from Romania; and, beginning the next row, Pan and Syrinx (c1625), excerpted from a Djibouti souvenir sheet. Next we come to an interesting item, an East German stamp taken from a 1967 set devoted to art works that had been missing since the end of World War II. I find no reference online to the disappearance of this piece, The Four Evangelists (c1625), and the painting must have since resurfaced, as it is currently listed as hanging in the Louvre and is shown, not only on the monochrome DDR stamp, but in glorious full color on a newer one from Côte d’Ivoire. A companion item shows The Infant Jupiter Fed by the Goat Amalthea (1630-35), and our final Jordaens object is a Rwandan stamp of his Adoration of the Shepherds (1618).

We remain in Flanders but come forward three centuries for our next subject. Belgian (Flemish) composer Arthur Meulemans (1884 – 29 June 1966), conductor of the Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1930 to 1942, composed 350 pieces, including 15 symphonies and 20 concertos and concertinos for various solo instruments.

Alie Lindberg, a Finnish child prodigy and virtuoso pianist from Åland (1849 – 27 November 1933), had an impeccable pedigree, having studied with Carl Tausig in Berlin, Franz Liszt in Weimar, and Adolf Henselt in St. Petersburg. Besides her international concert career (she once played Grieg’s Concerto in Bergen under the composer’s direction), she taught in Kraków and London. In 1882 she married and apparently gave up her career, though one source suggests this may have been due to arthritis. Her stamp (it is, I think, the first from Åland we’ve seen in these pages) was issued just three years ago.

Lastly today we have Romanian sculptor Ion Jalea (1887 – 7 November 1983). He studied at academies in Bucharest and Paris (with Antoine Bourdelle). Jalea lost his left arm while fighting in World War One, but did not give up sculpture and indeed produced what is held to be his best work after the war. An example is his Hercules and the Centaur (1925). He continued to work well into the 1970s, one of his later works being a 1971 statue of composer George Enescu situated in front of the National Opera House in Bucharest. Shown on the stamp is a work called Peace. I could learn nothing more about it.

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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