An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
I’ve kvetched here ad nauseam (if I may be permitted the bizarrely macaronic phrase) about the historical neglect of the Royal Mail to recognize Britain’s great artists on postage stamps, but I must say that that failing has begun to be addressed in recent years. One might have thought that the composer regarded by many as England’s greatest, Henry Purcell, would have had a UK stamp at some point prior to 2009, but better late than never. Belgium (!) issued one the same year, and the nice San Marino sheet from 1999 of composers paired with their operas has Purcell with Dido and Aeneas. Purcell’s birth date was on or about the 10th in 1659, and he died at 36 (about the same age as Mozart) on Saint Cecilia’s Day, November 21, 1695.
The precise birth date of Flemish painter Quentin Matsys (Matsijs) is even less well documented. Wikipedia says he was born “between 4 April and 10 September 1466”. Born at Leuven, he has the almost unique distinction among artists of beginning as an ironsmith. Like yesterday’s Pieter Brueghel, albeit of an earlier generation, Matsys was a member of Antwerp’s Guild of Saint Luke and as such one of its first important artists. Otherwise not much is known of his life. The stamp shows a slice of life in The Money Changer and His Wife (1514). One of the artist’s most famous works is his Grotesque Old Woman (or The Ugly Duchess, c1513), thought to be a either a portrait of an unknown woman possibly afflicted with Paget’s disease or a metaphorical representation of Margaret, Countess of Tyrol (1318-1389). In any case, the picture was the direct inspiration for John Tenniel’s illustration of the Duchess in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Quentin Matsys died in 1529 or 1530.
Austrian painter and printmaker Rudolf Jettmar (10 September 1869 – 21 April 1939) lost his mother at five and studied music and art at Vienna and Karlsruhe. (Apparently he was good enough as a violinist to be made an honorary member of Vienna Philharmonic in 1935.) He joined the Vienna Secession in 1898. A couple of examples of his work are Autumn and The Fall of Phoebus (1905). His major work The Way of Life (Weg des Lebens, 1909) was sadly destroyed during World War II. He also created mosaics (1907) for the side chapels in Vienna’s Church of St. Leopold (Kirche am Steinhof), which building we saw in our piece on architect Otto Wagner a couple of months ago. I don’t know the title of the piece appearing on the stamp, but it also graces the cover of a book about Jettmar by one Hans H. Hofstaetter.
Today is the 132nd anniversary of the birth of Croatian composer Dora Pejačević (10 September 1885 – 5 March 1923). She was a noblewoman whose father was an important political figure of his day. Although she had a number of music teachers, she was mainly self-taught. Her works come to 58 opus numbers, including a Symphony in F-sharp minor, a piano concerto, a piano quintet and trio, and two string quartets. Most of these have been recorded for CPO. She wrote many songs (some with texts by Rilke and Nietzsche) and piano pieces, including two sonatas. The complete piano works have been recorded on video by Yoko Nishii. These are also available on CD, but may be difficult to find. Sadly, Pejačević died in Munich in 1923 from complications following childbirth. A Croatian biopic was made in 1993, and the stamp was issued two years ago.
Novelist, playwright, and poet Franz Werfel (10 September 1890 – 26 August 1945) has won the gratitude of the Armenian people for his weighty novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933), the first major literary work to deal with the 1915 genocide. This gratitude is expressed in the stamp and label issued by the Armenian postal service in 1995, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the writer’s death. The German stamp came out the same year; the Austrian one had been issued five years earlier for the centenary of his birth. Though born to Jewish parents, Werfel was educated at a Catholic school and often attended mass with his governess. This was no doubt the foundation of his later interest in comparative religion, as well as for his 1941 novel The Song of Bernadette (filmed in 1945). His early friends included Max Brod and Franz Kafka, and he published his first book, a volume of poetry, when he was 21. A few years later he was serving in the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Russian front. As a telephone operator, he was able to continue his writing, and toward the end of the war was working with the Military Press Bureau. It was at this time that he met and fell in love with Mahler’s widow and the current wife of Walter Gropius Alma Mahler, though they didn’t wed until 1929. In the meantime, Werfel’s play Juarez and Maximilian (1925) was staged in Berlin by yesterday’s birthday boy Max Reinhardt.
Predictably, the Nazi response to The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was “fake news”, and they burned his books. Werfel, like Reinhardt, departed with the Anschluss and went to France and then the United States. He died in Los Angeles just a few weeks shy of his 55th birthday.
Soviet filmmaker Alexander Dovzhenko (September 10 [O.S. August 29] 1894 – November 25, 1956) became a teacher despite his parents’ lack of education and was an illustrator in the early days of the Soviet Union. In 1926 in Odessa he turned to screenwriting and had two films produced that very year. The 1994 centennial stamp showing Dovzhenko was accompanied by two labels, the upper one a still from his acclaimed Earth (Zemlya, 1930) and the one below referencing The Tale of Fiery Years (or The Chronicle of Flaming Years, 1961), a scenario by Dovzhenko that was filmed after his death by his wife Julia Solntseva.
The terrifically fecund Telugu writer Viswanatha Satyanarayana (10 September 1895 – 18 October 1976) produced literary works in all the major genres and dealt with a broad spectrum of topics in these and in his nonfiction. His sixty novels and twenty plays touch upon history, philosophy and religion, politics, linguistics, aesthetics, and psychology and typically are centered on evolving social conditions. He wrote three grand novel series (one of twelve volumes and the other two of six each) on Indian history. His poetry was in more of a classical style.
Manfred Hausmann (10 September 1898 – 6 August 1986) was a German writer, journalist, and lay preacher. He produced his first novels in the mid-1920s, and these and their successors proved very popular. His first poetry came out toward the end of the next decade, by which time Hausmann had embraced Christianity as a focus of his life. Yet his relationship with National Socialism remains ambiguous. He seemed to celebrate war as the culmination of sport, along with other “Blood and Soil” notions, but apparently distanced himself to some extent from the Nazi ideology and certainly condemned it openly when it was safe to do so. Besides his poems, essays, and sermons he translated poetry from the Greek, Chinese, and Japanese into German. The centennial stamp cites his book A Little Love to America (Kleine Liebe zu Amerika, 1931) and reproduces the book’s original jacket design.
The English artist Beryl Cook (10 September 1926 – 28 May 2008), never formally trained, made many amusing paintings of contemporary life, usually showing people, often rather portly ladies, enjoying themselves, as in Girls on the Town, shown on a 1997 UK stamp (Cook had been awarded the OBE the previous year). Her extroverted subjects were in contrast to her own retiring personality. She only began painting at the age of 33. Some more examples of her smile-inducing work include Dancing on the QE2, Roulette, Tan Time, Meadow Suite, Bridge Party, and the decidedly naughty Ivor Dickie.
It’s also the birthday of Finnish pop singer Kaija Kokkola (born 10 September 1962), who goes by the stage name Kaija Koo. Her first solo album came out in 1986, and a second didn’t follow until 1993, but it was a big hit in Finland, and since then her albums have appeared with timely regularity.
Three writers and two fine actors, stampless all, all British or American, and all born on September 10th, deserve mention, I think: critics Carl Van Doren (September 10, 1885 – July 18, 1950), who won the 1939 Pulitzer for his biography of Benjamin Franklin, and Cyril Connolly (10 September 1903 – 26 November 1974), whose famous adages include “Imprisoned in every fat man a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out,” and “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” The third writer is poet and novelist Hilda Doolittle (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961), who used the pen name of “H.D.”, and the actors are the gifted Philip Baker Hall (born September 10, 1931) and Colin Firth (1960).
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.