An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Just two weeks ago I reported that I could find no stamp from anywhere in the world honoring one of the greatest of English poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Well, the same appears to be true of playwright and poet John Dryden (19 August [O.S. 9 August] 1631 – 12 May [O.S. 1 May] 1700). They are joined in philatelic limbo by the author of Pamela and Clarissa, Samuel Richardson (19 August 1689 – 4 July 1761).
So we begin with two early Florentine painters who both died on an August 19, Andrea del Castagno (d. 1457) and Francesco Furini (d. 1646). Andrea del Castagno, also known as Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla, was born about 1421 near Florence and lived and worked in that city most of his life. He was in Venice, where he left a fresco in St Mark’s Basilica, in 1442-43. The stamps in the top row are from Yemen, Equatorial Guinea, and Anguilla, and offer David (c1450), The Holy Trinity, with Saints Jerome, Paula, and Eustochium (c1453), and a Crucifixion (c1450). In the next row we see Boccaccio, one of the series of Illustrious People that Castagna painted later in his life with Filippo Carducci for the Villa Carducci at Legnaia.
Next to that are two stamps showing the work of Francesco Furini, who was born in the city proper around 1600 (posssibly 1603). There seems to have been a curious disconnect between Furini’s piety—he entered the priesthood in 1633—and his seductive nudes, such as Andromeda (c1636, on a stamp from Hungary) and Venus Mourning the Death of Adonis (1626-28, on one from Mongolia). Robert Browning explained away the apparent inconsistency in a laudatory poem (“With Francis Furini”) by attributing the artist’s portrayals of “dear / Fleshly perfection of the human shape” to a desire “to praise Heaven and bless earth,” adding that Furini “dared achieve / Dreadful distinction, at soul-safety’s price / By also painting women… Just as God made them…God’s best of beauteous and magnificent / Revealed to earth — the naked female form.”
Another country, another century, as we move on to Russian architect Andreyan Zakharov (19 August 1761 – 8 September 1811). While Florence was the center for the lives of Castagno and Furini, for Zakharov it was Saint Petersburg. He was born and died there and belonged to a family employed by the Admiralty board. One of his teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts was Alexander Kokorinov, and he also studied in Paris with Jean Chalgrin, the designer of the Arc de Triomphe. Zakharov was named chief architect of the department of the Navy in 1805, and the next year saw the renovation and expansion of the Admiralty building, his most celebrated work. (Simultaneously, from 1806-17, Zakharov was also building the Cathedral of St. Andrew’s in Kronstadt, an edifice that was demolished by the Soviets in 1932.) As for the admiralty, this undertaking occupied Zakharov from 1806-23. He preserved the original configuration and central spire of 1738, but added a much widened facade and two new wings and greatly enriched the structure’s overall appearance. It is seen on the 1961 stamp in honor of the architect.
Today is also the birthday of French poet and songwriter Pierre-Jean de Béranger (19 August 1780 – 16 July 1857). Wikipedia tells us, “He has been described as ‘the most popular French songwriter of all time’ and ‘the first superstar of French popular music’.” And yet, it seems we must go to the USSR to find a stamp for him. (The reason for that is that Béranger wrote in support of the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848.) This one was issued in 1957 for the centenary of his death. Béranger was not a composer, but rather set his verses to existing tunes. Contemporary and later composers, however, put their own music to Béranger’s words, including Boïeldieu, Schumann, Berlioz (“Le Cinq mai“), Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Liszt (“Le vieux vagabond“), Moniuszko, Alyabyev, Dargomyzhsky, Florent Schmitt, and Wagner (“Les adieux de Marie Stuart“).
Second collage. The work of French painter Gustave Caillebotte (19 August 1848 – 21 February 1894) has been much disseminated on stamps in recent years. Besides two stamps of France, Portraits in the Countryside (1876) and Bouquet de fleurs, I have selected a few from various African souvenir sheets: from the Central African Republic come The Gardeners (1877), Nude Lying on a Couch (1873), and Les Périssoires (1878). From Guinea-Bissau comes The Orange Trees (1878), and from Burundi Young Man [the artist’s brother René] at His Window (1876). A stamp from the Solomon Islands shows Le pont d’Europe (1876). Caillebotte studied law and engineering and served for nine months in the Franco-Prussian War. His turn to art seems to have been rather sudden. He was very friendly with the Impressionists and even exhibited with them, though his own style is more realist. Caillebotte stopped showing his work when he was 34 and devoted more of his time to gardening, to building and racing yachts, and to collecting stamps!
Third collage. Romania has certainly done its native son George Enescu proud. Not only is there an annual George Enescu Festival, but the Romanian Philharmonic was renamed the George Enescu Philharmonic after his death, and in 1958 Bacãu International Airport became George Enescu International Airport. Even the village where he was born on August 19, 1881, Liveni, was renamed George Enescu! Below are most, but not all, of the stamps issued by Romania in his honor, along with one each from Moldova and Hungary. Composer, violinist, and teacher, Enescu (or Georges Enesco, as he was known in France) was the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, aged 7. (Fritz Kreisler had also been admitted at that age in 1882, but I guess Kreisler must have been a more mature 7.) I mentioned the day before yesterday that one of Leo Ascher’s teachers was Robert Fuchs, who also happens to have taught Enescu. While still a child, Enescu played before the emperor and met Brahms, then went to the Paris Conservatory where his teachers included Massenet and Fauré. As well as writing music celebrating his homeland (his Opus 1 is a symphonic suite Poema Română, the third Violin Sonata is subtitled “dans le caractère populaire roumain“, and there are, of course, the two Romanian Rhapsodies, the first of which is very famous), he became a champion of Romanian music by other composers, among them Mihail Jora, whose stamp I posted earlier this month. He took up permanent residence in Paris after World War II and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery. As a teacher, his noteworthy students included Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, and Ida Haendel. He died on May 4, 1955.
Our last collage today begins with Coco Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971), who learned how to sew in a convent and was designing hats before 1910. Her dresses were internationally known by 1915. In the 20s she designed costumes for several productions of new ballets and operas, including Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (1927). She had a series of affairs with wealthy men of various nationalities, a few aristocrats, and an antisemite or two, a position with which Chanel herself was not at all uncomfortable. By report Coco could be a pretty nasty piece of work, sarcastic, destructive, opportunistic, ruthless. During World War II she closed her shops, putting 4,000 female employees out of work, and collaborated with Nazi intelligence, or so a recent book attests. On the plus side, her liberating clothing and fabrics for women helped put the final nail in the coffin of the corset. A pair of Coco Chanel stamps from France is joined by one from the Republic of Guinea.
Canadian artist Edwin Holgate (August 19, 1892 – May 21, 1977) spent two years of his early childhood in Jamaica. His education was acquired in Toronto, Montreal, and Paris. Holgate happened to be in eastern Europe when World War I broke out, and he had to traverse the breadth of Asia to get home. Once there, he joined the Canadian army. He had his first exhibition in Montreal in 1924 and later taught in that city. Holgate was the second new member admitted to the Group of Seven after A. J. Casson. His areas of concentration were portraits and female nudes, and the Canadian stamp offers up The Lumberjack (1924).
American versifier Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971) has delighted readers with his witty rhymes for nearly a century. He was born in Rye, New York. Nashville, Tennessee was named for one his ancestors. He briefly (one year) attended Harvard and briefly (three months) worked at The New Yorker. Nash published his first book of verse in 1931 and lived in Baltimore from 1934 to the end of his life. In 1943 he collaborated with S. J. Perelman on the Broadway musical One Touch of Venus, with music by Kurt Weill. It was also in the 40s that he wrote rhymes to accompany Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. On the centennial stamp several of Nash’s lines are inscribed, but they’re difficult to see. I’ll reproduce one, which might be from Carnival, but isn’t: “The camel has a single hump; / The dromedary , two; / Or else the other way around. / I’m never sure. Are you?” So, with apologies to Mr. Nash: “When Mr. Saint-Saëns wrote the Carnival, / He allowed for a veritable barnful. / But he couldn’t include every animal. / One he chose to eschew was the camenal. / (And this I find utterly damnable.)”
English documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings (19 August 1907 – 24 September 1950) read English at Pembroke College, Cambridge and, after a fashion, having explored photography, painting, and theater design, took a job with the film unit of the old General Post Office. In the meanwhile he helped organize the 1936 Surrealist Exhibition in London and the social research organisation Mass Observation (1937). Most of Jennings’s films are patriotic shorts, such as London Can Take It! (1940), A Diary for Timothy (with a narration written by E.M. Forster and read by Michael Redgrave, 1945), and The Dim Little Island (1948). His only feature-length project was a semi-documentary on London’s Auxiliary Fire Service called Fires Were Started (or I Was A Fireman, 1943). Jennings died in a fall while scouting locations for a film on the cliffs of a Greek island. The stamp from 2014 recalls his 1939 short Spare Time. A television film about the filmmaker, Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain, came out in 2002, and a biography, Humphrey Jennings by Kevin Jackson, appeared in 2004. Of Jennings, Lindsay Anderson said in 1954 that he was “the only real poet that British cinema has yet produced.”
Commander Riker aboard the Next Generation’s USS Enterprise, actor Jonathan Frakes turns 65 today. The popularity of the Star Trek franchise is such that stamps exist from several nations, the examples here being Palau, Grenada, and Guyana. Make it so, Number One.
202 years ago today, August 19, 1815, Franz Schubert penned one of his most beloved songs, “Heidenröslein” (Little Rose on the Heath), D. 257. I expect you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn that there is a Japanese (!) stamp from 1998 honoring this song. The stamp is one of a lengthy series celebrating melodies beloved of the Japanese. Who knew? (After the stamp was issued, pop singer Ringo Sheena recorded a soft rock version—in German!—on her 2002 album “Utaite Myori: Sono Ichi“. I do not recommend that it be sought out by purists.)
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.