The Arts on the Stamps of the World — June 12

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


By Doug Briscoe

King of the hill for today’s Arts on the Stamps of the World is Egon Schiele, but we shall also salute Johanna Spyri, author of Heidi, diarist Anne Frank, John A. Roebling, the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, and other artists from Norway and Cuba (composers), Australia (sculptor and stamp and coin designer), Gibraltar (painter), and Spain (filmmaker).

It’s not so strange as it may seem that the first stamp (1969) showing a work by Egon Schiele (12 June 1890 – 31 October 1918) should be of his rare and uncharacteristic drawing Wife of the Artist (not the much better known Seated woman with bent knee of 1917); that’s because the stamp, at right, is merely one of a set displaying etchings from the Albertina Museum in Vienna for its bicentenary. (By the way, another piece bearing more or less the same name, Seated Woman, is this black chalk drawing of 1918.) Four other stamps from Austria are a bit more representative, if not strongly so. Two are self portraits issued for the artist’s centennial and for the 120th anniversary of his birth, that one being Self portrait with black clay pot (1911); the other two are Crescent of Houses II (Island Town, also 1911) and, in the next row, Portrait of Wally (1912), again a stamp commemorating a Viennese museum, the Leopold, rather than Schiele himself. It is only with the stamp from Mali that we get a taste of the real Schiele: Woman (1917).

John Augustus Roebling was born Johann August Röbling in Thuringia on June 12, 1806. He studied mathematics, science, architecture, and engineering. He and his brother Carl left for America in 1831 with Big Plans—they purchased over 1500 acres in western Pennsylvania with the idea of founding a German settlement. (The resulting small town of Saxonburg still exists.) The grand scheme failed to launch grandly, and Roebling used his engineering skills in the building of canals and aqueducts, then bridges. He never lived to see the grandest of all his schemes realized. During the work on the Brooklyn Bridge he suffered a severe injury to his foot and expired of tetanus on July 22, 1869. His creation his since changed hands in many lucrative transactions. (For more about the Brooklyn Bridge, tune in tomorrow.)

Swiss author Johanna Spyri (née Heusser; 12 June 1827 – 7 July 1901) took up writing fairly late in life. Her first story, hardly suitable for children, was a tale of domestic violence, but by the time of its publication in 1880 Spyri had started adding children’s literature to her growing output. Heidi, among the earlier of these projects, was finished within about four weeks. Recently (2010) a scholar has unearthed an 1830 story by one Hermann Adam von Kamp that may have served as the model for Heidi. In 1884, Spyri lost both her husband (who had been a friend of Wagner) and her only child, a son not yet thirty. In her remaining years she continued writing and working for charity.


Joanna Spyri’s son fell victim to tuberculosis, as did our next artist, composer Rikard Nordraak (1842 – 20 March 1866). A Norwegian from Oslo, he was the cousin of the great poet and playwright Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, whose verses were among those selected for Nordraak’s two published sets of songs. Nordraak also wrote incidental music for Bjørnson’s plays. His early death (at 23) deeply affected his friend Grieg (birthday coming up in three days), whose devotion to Norwegian folk music was inspired by Nordraak. Apart from a handful of other small pieces, Nordraak wrote what became the Norwegian national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet“. Next to the pair of Nordraak stamps is one for the anthem.

Sculptor and son of a sculptor Bertram Mackennal (12 June 1863 – 10 October 1931) created many official pieces for both England and for his native Australia, including statues of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and George V and memorials for the Boer and First World Wars. He also made busts of such bright lights of the day as Sarah Bernhardt and Nellie Melba. But none of these pieces, as far as I know, has been reproduced on stamps. On the other hand, Mackennal also designed George V’s Coronation Medal and the new coins required for the realm on the passing of the crown. The royal profile designed for the coins was also used on the new stamps, two examples of which can be seen in our collage. Mackennal was the first Australian artist to receive a knighthood. In his younger days he shared a studio in London with fellow Australian Tom Roberts.

All of our next three subjects happen to have studied in Madrid at one time or another. Gibraltarian painter Jacobo Azaguri (later Azagury; 12 June 1886 – 17 January 1980), a representative of the territory’s relatively substantial Jewish population, studied in Madrid from 1915 and Lisbon from 1923. An Expressionist in style, he tended to use muted colors, as evinced in Governor’s Parade (I can’t find a date for this piece) on the 1991 stamp. During World War II Azagury was evacuated to Madeira. As the result of a tumor he lost the use of one eye but continued painting. He was awarded an OBE in 1978.


Violinist and composer Amadeo Roldán was born on this day in 1900. His mother was the Cuban pianist Albertina Gardes; his father was a Spaniard. Roldán was born in Paris and after his studies (in Madrid, remember) he went to Cuba in 1919, becoming concertmaster of the new Havana Symphony in 1922. Soon he assumed the same position with the Havana Philharmonic and became that orchestra’s conductor in 1932, also founding the Havana String Quartet (1927; a previous incarnation had been founded by Antonio Mompó in 1906). Wikipedia credits him with writing “the first symphonic pieces to incorporate Afro-Cuban percussion instruments”, adding, “His work was regularly featured in concerts sponsored by the Pan-American Association of Composers, founded by Henry Cowell.” A heavy smoker, he died of facial cancer at 38. Havana’s Amadeo Roldán Theater, first built in the 1920s, was renamed in his honor in 1959.

Valencia-born film director, screenwriter, and occasional actor Luis García Berlanga (12 June 1921 – 13 November 2010) was a student of philosophy at first, then turned to cinema, studying at the Institute of Cinematographic Investigations and Experiences (in guess which city) from 1947. In his first film, That Happy Couple (Esa pareja feliz, 1951) he collaborated with Juan Antonio Bardem, the uncle of today’s star Javier Bardem. The two directors also co-founded a short-lived film magazine in 1953. Berlanga’s finest creation is perhaps Welcome Mr. Marshall! (¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall!, 1953), a comedy about culture shock for which Fernando Rey provided the narration.

The painful—and inspiring—details of the life of Anne Frank are too well known to require repeating here. She was born Annelies Marie Frank in Frankfurt on this date in 1929 and thirteen years later received a diary for her birthday. Three weeks later the family went into hiding in the attic of the Opekta Works in their adopted Amsterdam. Anne died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in either February or March of 1945. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was published in Dutch in 1947 (original title: The Annex: Diary Notes 14 June 1942 – 1 August 1944) and in English in 1952. Some may see it as entirely fitting that the first stamp to be issued in her honor came from Germany (1979). The one from the Netherlands came out the next year, and the Israeli stamp was produced in 1988.

It surprised me that I couldn’t find a stamp for one of the most storied art patrons of any age, Cosimo de’ Medici, second Duke of Florence and Grand Duke of Tuscany (12 June 1519 – 21 April 1574). And a happy birthday to Chick Corea (born June 12, 1941).

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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