An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Another very busy day ahead here on The Arts on the Stamps of the World, not that the names are all that terribly well known (other than Cole Porter, Carl Nielsen, and the movie stars), but we have a wide array of talent to investigate, including two very early Italian painters, two artists (a poet and a filmmaker) from Georgia, and an Austrian writer who lived there for a time.
I was unaware that Cole Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964) was not only classically trained, but actually studied orchestration and counterpoint at the Schola Cantorum in Paris with Vincent d’Indy! Further, he composed a short ballet with Gerald Murphy in 1923. The music was orchestrated by Charles Koechlin and performed on the same program with Milhaud’s La création du monde at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The ballet, called Within the Quota, is cited as one of the first symphonic jazz-based scores. (Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue came four months later.) The USPS put out a Cole Porter centenary stamp in 1991.
One might expect Denmark to have issued a number of Carl Nielsen stamps over the years, given that he is pretty much universally regarded as Denmark’s greatest composer (Romania, by comparison, has issued more than a dozen different Enescu stamps), but in fact there is only one (not counting a 1974 issue depicting his childhood home, but that’s only part of a set showing various Danish landmarks—I include it anyway). David Starobin, who travels frequently to Denmark, attributed the neglect to something called “Janteloven” (YAHN-teh-lo-ven) or the Law of Jante. I had to look it up and found this report on Wikipedia: “The Law of Jante…is the idea that there is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities that negatively portrays and criticizes individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate.” Nielsen lived from 1865—the portrait stamp is a centennial issue—to 1934 and left six powerful symphonies among his many fine works. (My favorite Nielsen, though, is the Wind Quintet.)
Now, our next subject was neither born on June 9 nor died on that date, but in the year 1311, 706 years ago today, his Maestà Altarpiece was unveiled in Siena Cathedral, and that gives me an excellent excuse to present him in today’s assemblage. The artist, Duccio di Buoninsegna, was born some time between 1255 and 1260 and died around 1318-19. Little is known of his life other than that he was born, worked, and died in Siena and earned considerable fame in his lifetime. He worked in egg tempera and gold leaf on wooden panels, and the aforementioned altarpiece is held to be one of the signal masterpieces of the period. Only a dozen or so of his other works survive. The Italian stamp shows a very small detail from the Maestà Altarpiece: the second angel to the left of the Virgin Mary’s head. (You can see the entire work by following the link provided above.) In a remarkable—providential?—coincidence, one of the many painters of the next generation to be influenced by Duccio’s work was…
Ambrogio Lorenzetti (or Ambruogio Laurati), born c1290, who happens to have died on this date in 1348. His singular masterpiece is The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, which was executed for the Sala dei Nove (Salon of Nine), a council room in Siena’s Town Hall. The set of four stamps at the center of the collage shows various details of this masterwork: the figures of Peace (duplicated on the green Italian stamp of 1946), Justice, and Moderation, and a view of Siena. An interesting feature of these frescoes is that in one of them, the Allegory of Bad Government and Its Effects on Town and Country, one can see the first depiction of an hourglass in any known art work. The other stamp, from the United Arab Emirate of Ajman, shows Lorenzetti’s Madonna del latte, (Madonna of Milk, or Nursing Madonna, 1320-25). Ambrogio and his elder brother Pietro, also a painter, are thought to have died of the bubonic plague.
Born three hundred years after Lorenzetti, Dutch painter Pieter Saenredam (9 June 1597 – buried 31 May 1665) was the son of Jan Saenredam, a printmaker. Born in Assendelft, he moved to Haarlem in 1612. While other artists of his day created imaginary buildings in their work, Saenredam was one of the first to capture actual buildings. Saenredam was concerned with documenting the structures surrounding him before they were lost to the winds of change, and he took great pains with measurements of the buildings he painted, sketching them in situ before reproducing them on canvas in the studio, sometimes years later. The stamp from 1999 shows one of these pieces. A contemporary portrait of him indicates that he was afflicted with kyphosis and abnormally small stature.
I mentioned in my introduction that we have two Georgians among our artists today, and the first of them chronologically is Akaki Tsereteli (9 June 1840- 26 Jan 1915), sometimes called simply Akaki, a prince of a noble and time-honored family and, more significantly, a prominent poet who strove for liberation for the peasants and for his countrymen from the heavy hand of the tsars. It was a custom in his family for the children to grow up with peasant families in the village as a way of inculcating a sense of empathy for the less privileged. Tsereteli wrote hundreds of poems, some patriotic, others lyrical, still others satiric. There are also humorous stories, theater pieces, and an autobiographical novel. He appears in the first Georgian film, a 1912 documentary made for his 72nd birthday. I was surprised to find four stamps for him, all from the present century, two of them being a joint Georgian/Ukrainian issue, the others Georgian stamps of 2004 and 2015.
I was even more surprised to discover no fewer than seven (!) different stamps for Bertha von Suttner, who, oddly enough, lived for a few years in the Principality of Mingrelia in Georgia, having eloped there with her bridegroom. Bertha Felicitas Sophie Freifrau von Suttner, Countess Kinsky (9 June 1843 – 21 June 1914) was a Czech-Austrian writer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 for her pacifist writings such as the novel Lay Down Your Arms! (Die Waffen nieder!, 1889), a work praised by Tolstoy. The book went on to appear in 37 editions and made her a leader in the Austrian peace movement. She founded the German Peace Society in 1892. In earlier days she studied to become an opera singer (one of her teachers was Pauline Viardot), worked as a tutor, and briefly acted as amanuensis and housekeeper to Alfred Nobel himself in 1876. It’s possible that it was she who through her long subsequent correspondence with him persuaded Nobel that he should create a peace prize in addition to the ones for literature and science that he proposed in his will. One generously assumes she hardly suspected she would one day win it herself. She was in fact the first woman to win the Peace Prize and the first Austrian to win any Nobel Prize. Her image has been used on German and Austrian coins and on the old Austrian 1000 schilling bank note, besides the stamps, two from Austria, three from Germany (one of them East German), and one each from Sweden and Mali. Incidentally, the Swedish stamp happens to have been engraved by yesterday’s birthday boy Martin Mörck!
Danish realist artist Michael Ancher (9 June 1849 – 19 September 1927) made a specialty of painting fishermen and their lives as he saw them in the fishing community of Skagen at the northern tip of Denmark. He had first gone there with his fellow art student Karl Madsen in the 1870s. They became the nucleus of a community of artists, one of whom was Ancher’s wife Anna Brøndum. His striking canvas Will He Round the Point? (Vil han klare pynten?, 1879) established his reputation. The Danish stamp offers up his Girl with Sunflowers, while two of the stamps from a Comoros Islands sheet present On the beach at Skagen and Fishermen’s wives on the dunes of the beach at Skagen. I find myself particularly struck by the lovely and irenic A stroll on the beach. Both Anna and Michael Ancher share a spot on the Danish 1000 krone bill.
Next up is today’s other Georgian, director Konstantin Mardzhanishvili (or Mardzhanov; June 9 [O.S. May 28], 1872 – Apr. 17, 1933). He began working in theater in 1897, founding two of his own, the Moscow Free Theater in 1913 and the Theater of Comic Opera in what was then Petrograd in 1920. Back in Georgia in 1922, he established yet a third company (1928), the Second State Drama Theater of Georgia, which was later renamed for him. In the meantime he had begun working in cinema, directing several Georgian films in the 1920s.
French Canadian painter Jean-Philippe Dallaire (9 June 1916 – 27 November 1965) had his centenary last year, but the stamp goes back to 1984, a Christmas design on the subject of The Annunciation. It’s typical of his more festive pieces, although Dallaire was also known for peopling his paintings with bizarre characters reflecting states of fear or madness, not eschewing scenes of violence. One wonders whether this to some extent carries over from his experiences in Europe during the war. He had gone on a government grant to Paris in 1938 and was caught in the maelstrom when war broke out. He and his wife were held at internment camps, Marie-Thérèse for six months, Dallaire himself for four long years. On his release he apprenticed in tapestry-making before returning to Canada and taking up a teaching post at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Quebec City. He also worked as a cartoonist for educational films and as a muralist. Dallaire lived in the south of France from 1959 until his death.
Peter Florian (born 9 June 1964) is an Austrian artist who gets a nod here because he was asked to design a stamp for the 1996 ski flying world championships held at Kulm. We supply the resulting article for your delectation. Peter Florian held his first exhibition at the age of 23 in 1987 in Vienna. To see some of his mainstream work, go here. I particularly like his Across the Red Line.
We have a handful of movie matters on stamps for this date. It’s the birthday of American film composer James Newton Howard (born June 9, 1951) and actors Johnny Depp (1963) and Natalie Portman (1981), as well as the 24th anniversary of the premiere of Jurassic Park and the 83rd anniversary of the first appearance of Donald Duck! James Newton Howard has scored more than 100 films and received a Grammy, an Emmy, and eight Oscar nominations. One of his projects was the score for Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005), which has a set of stamps from the country where it was largely filmed, New Zealand. I chose the stamp without human actors. Johnny Depp is seen in his Jack Sparrow getup on a minisheet from the Republic of Guinea, while Natalie Portman (née Neta-Lee Hershlag) sports her Padmé Amidala garb on three stamps, one of them from the U.S., and appears as herself on a stamp from Congo (DR). As I’ve had occasion to say before, Disney stamps are hugely popular all over the world, as can be seen from these examples from Antigua, the Netherlands, and San Marino. Donald Duck appeared for the first time on screen on this date in 1934 in an item called The Wise Little Hen. On the American stamp he takes a subordinate posture to Mickey and Goofy. Yes, Jurassic Park has a U.S. stamp, too, one from a big series of millennial issues looking back on significant events of the preceding century. The picture opened in Washington, D.C. on June 9, 1993 with proceeds benefiting two children’s charities.
It may be salutary in these times to recall that on this day in 1954, Joseph Welch addressed Senator Joseph McCarthy with the words, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
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.