An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Pride of place today I think pretty clearly goes to American novelist Thomas Wolfe (October 3, 1900 – September 15, 1938), author of Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and You Can’t Go Home Again (1940). (You can look but you can’t go.) Born in North Carolina, Wolfe studied at Chapel Hill, where he started writing plays. He went to grad school at Harvard, earning his MA in 1922. After that he taught English at NYU. Already Wolfe was exhibiting his tendency to prolixity, his plays remaining unperformed because of their inordinate length. He traveled to Europe in 1924-25. On his return he began an autobiographical novel that would in time become Look Homeward, Angel. At Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins edited the manuscript down from its unwieldy 1100 pages. The next book, which became Of Time and the River, was even more sprawling at twice the length and again had to be trimmed by Perkins. (The two big posthumous novels, The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again, were edited by Edward Aswell.) Wolfe traveled to Germany in 1936 and wrote truthfully of what he saw there, which made him persona non grata in the country. His books were banned there. While undertaking a tour of the western United States, Wolfe fell ill with pneumonia and died of miliary tuberculosis just shy of his 38th birthday. In 2000, O Lost, the original version of Look Homeward, Angel, was reconstructed Matthew Bruccoli. English composer John McCabe’s Fourth Symphony is subtitled “Of Time and the River.”
Another colorful literary character was the Bosnian Serb poet and adventurer Simeon “Sima” Milutinović (mee-loo-TEEN-o-vitch; 3 October 1791 – 30 December 1847), nicknamed “Sarajlija” (sah-RYE-lee-la, meaning “from Sarajevo”, where Milutinović was born). During the First Serbian Uprising he joined a guerrilla band and started writing love poetry while fighting the Ottoman Turks. He cooled his heels in a Turkish dungeon for a year or two, then went off on his travels, Chișinău, where he wrote his epic poem The Serbian Maid, Leipzig, where he briefly attended university, back to Serbia and on to Trieste, Kotor, and then, fleeing the police, to Cetinje, Montenegro, where he was taken under a bishop’s wing and became something of a power-seeker. He wrote a history of Montenegro in 1835. Milutinović attached himself to various nobles and went on his merry way, Istanbul, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, where he married a poet. There was more skullduggery in Belgrade in 1839, where, eventually, he died in poverty. His 1840 portrait by Katarina Ivanović was used as the basis of the stamp issued in 2016 for the 125th anniversary of his birth.
Ivan Savvich Nikitin ([O.S. 21 September] 1824 – 28 October [O.S. 16 October] 1861) was also a Slavic poet, a Russian whose works were set to music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Kalinnikov, Gretchaninov, and others. (He is not to be confused with the 18th-century painter Ivan Nikitich Nikitin.) He came from Voronezh and after a time in a seminary began writing. He associated with the intelligentsia, taught himself French and German, and published his first poems in 1849. His first collection appeared in 1856, and in 1859 Nikitin opened a bookstore and library that became a literary center in Voronezh. His second collection came out the same year, and in 1861 he published his Seminarist’s Diary. His verse, commonly dealing with the lives of poor folk, is said to have been cherished by Nikita Khrushchev.
Eleonora Duse (3 October 1858 – 21 April 1924) came from a family of actors and was on the stage from childhood. By the 1880s she was fully established and formed her own company. George Bernard Shaw thought she was a better actress than Sarah Bernhardt, and she was admired by Chekhov. She was the first actress ever invited to tea at the White House (by Mrs Cleveland). (By the way, and apropos of nothing, one of Thomas Wolfe’s siblings was named Grover Cleveland Wolfe. He died of typhoid fever at 12.) Duse had a rich and varied sex life, her lovers including (but not limited to) Verdi’s librettist and the composer of Mefistofele Arrigo Boito, playwright and proto-fascist Gabriele d’Annunzio, and possibly Isadora Duncan (who was briefly married to another of today’s subjects!). Duse was the first woman and the first Italian to appear on the cover of Time magazine (1923). 1916, She made only one film, Cenere (Ashes, 1916), based on a novel by Grazia Deledda, whose birthday was last week.
Four painters follow one another in quick succession next, beginning with Frenchman Pierre Bonnard (3 October 1867 — 23 January 1947), who, after studying and even briefly practicing law at his father’s insistence, surrendered to his muse. He had also studied art and opted for that. One of the earliest works we see on the Bonnard stamps I discovered in such abundance is the rather callow-looking Self-Portrait from about 1889, seen on a minisheet from the Central African Republic along with The Dining Room in the Country (1913). Bonnard met Toulouse-Lautrec in 1891, and is it suggesting too much to see that artist’s influence in Mother and Child with Dog, painted the same year? Also showing up in this picture (displayed at bottom left on another CAR stamp) is the influence of Japanese prints often seen in Bonnard’s early work. He was 29 when his first show was given in 1896. A piece dating from just a few years later is Girl in Straw Hat (Femme au Chapeau Rouge, 1903). If we move on the second collage we can see one of Bonnard’s better known canvases, Nude Against the Light (1907-08), for which his wife Marthe de Meligny was the likely model, as she was for many of his paintings. He didn’t generally work from life, though, preferring to work in the studio from memory, assisted by drawings, with notes on the colors, and sometimes photographs. The stamp from France gives us Dining Room in Cannet (Coin de salle à manger au Cannet, 1932), and the jaundiced one from the Solomon Islands shows another Self-Portrait, this one also called The Boxer (1931). The next row begins with The Window (1925) and continues with The Port of Cannes (1926-27), Siesta (1914), and Madame Claude Anet (1910). Bonnard also left many prints, posters, book illustrations, and theater set designs. Henri Matisse said of him, “I maintain that Bonnard is a great artist for our time and, naturally, for posterity.”
Also known to Matisse was the Belgian artist Henri Evenepoel (3 October 1872 – 27 December 1899), born in Nice. Although of the same period, he was more associated with the Fauvist movement. He studied art in Brussels and Paris, eventually in the atelier of Gustave Moreau. Four years later (1897) he had his first solo exhibition back in Brussels. Evenepoel died of typhus in Paris, aged only 27. The three stamps, from Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, and Nevis, present his Henriette with the Big Hat (Henriette au grand chapeau), The Butcher (1897), and Charles in a Striped Jersey (Charles au jersey rayé, a portrait of Evenepoel’s son, c1898). Dating from this same time, a result of Evenepoel’s visit to Algeria, is Orange Market at Blidah (1898, not on a stamp).
Though born only eight years after Evenepoel, American illustrator Coles Phillips (October 3, 1880 – June 13, 1927) was the product of a very different milieu. Born in Springfield, Ohio, Phillips had some of his work published in his school’s yearbook from 1901 to 1904. His only formal artistic training took place in a period of three months at the Chase School of Art in Manhattan before he boldly opened his own advertising agency, hiring one of his former classmates, Edward Hopper. Phillips became a staff artist at Life magazine at twenty-six and was affiliated with them for the rest of his rather short life, though he also did work for others, notably Good Housekeeping, where produced all the covers from 1912 to 1914. He died from kidney failure at the age of forty-seven. Phillips’s hallmark was the “fadeaway girl” design exemplified on the US stamp from 2001. The colors of the model’s clothing were identical to the background. He originated this idea in 1908, but the advertisement (for Luxite Hosiery) we see on the stamp dates from 1918.
Canadian painter A(lexander) Y(oung) Jackson (October 3, 1882 – April 5, 1974) was one of the founders of the seminal Group of Seven that got started around 1919. His introduction to art was his boyhood job for a lithograph company. Like Coles Phillips he took classes in the evenings but, even more adventurous, he paid for his transport to and from Europe by working on a cattle boat. He pressed on to Chicago, joined a commercial art firm, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, saved his pennies, and returned to Europe (as a paying passenger, this time) in 1907. It was in France that he decided to become a professional painter. His first solo exhibition was given at the Montreal Art Gallery in 1913. He met and became a close friend of Tom Thomson, with whom he often fished and sketched in the great outdoors they both loved. Wounded in World War I at the Battle of Sanctuary Wood, he was named a war artist and, after the conflict, worked for the Canadian War Memorials until 1919, the time of the Group of Seven. Another association of artists, the Beaver Hall Group, was formed soon afterward in Montreal, and A. Y. Jackson was named president. Late in life he published an autobiography called A Painter’s Country (1958) with a dedication to fellow Group of Seven member J. E. H. MacDonald. Jackson’s work is represented on a Canadian stamp by his Evening, Les Éboulements, Quebec (1932-33).
Just as the preceding four painters were grouped together in chronological sequence, so, as it happens, is our next group of four poets. French writer Alain-Fournier (3 October 1886 – 22 September 1914) also served in the First World War, but alas, did not survive the experience. He was killed near the Meuse just a month after the war began. His body remained unidentified until 1991. Born Henri-Alban Fournier, the son of a school teacher, he became a literary critic in Paris in 1910 and got to know André Gide and Paul Claudel. The sole work that has immortalized Alain-Fournier’s name is the schoolboy novel Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), beloved in France and twice made into motion pictures. He left a second novel, Colombe Blanchet, unfinished, but this, a volume of poems and essays, and various letters have since been published. The stamp cites Le Grand Meaulnes and provides an illustration from the story.
Another writer who died very young was the Russian lyric poet Sergei Yesenin (or Esenin; 3 October [O.S. 21 September] 1895 – 28 December 1925). Born into a peasant family and mostly reared by his grandparents, he nevertheless began to write poetry when he was just nine. In Moscow, he worked as a proofreader and devoted a year and a half to university studies before moving in 1915 to Petrograd, there meeting Alexander Blok and others and making himself known in literary circles. His first book of poems was published the next year. He supported the revolution initially but grew disillusioned with it and was not hesitant to express his criticisms in his poems, one of which was called “The Stern October Has Deceived Me”. He founded his own publishing house in 1918 and was one of the founders of the Russian poetry movement known as imaginism. In the space of twelve years Yesenin was married four times. His second wife Zinaida Raikh would later marry Vsevolod Meyerhold; his third, as I hinted above, was no less a figure than Isadora Duncan (their marriage lasted only a year or so), and his fourth was a granddaughter of Tolstoy. A sufferer from depression, Yesenin at one point was under care at a mental clinic, from which he escaped shortly before his death. The likeliest verdict is for suicide, though theories of murder by the OGPU have been put forward. Much of Yesenin’s work was suppressed in the Soviet Union until 1966. Part of his legacy lies in composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s settings in his Requiem for a Young Poet (Requiem für einen jungen Dichter, 1969). Yesenin also appears as a character in the 1981 ballet Isadora, choreogaphed by Kenneth Macmillan.
A Spanish poet who enjoyed a much longer life, more than ninety years, was Gerardo Diego Cendoya (October 3, 1896 – July 8, 1987), who was associated with a number of literary groups. In 1919, along with Jorge Luis Borges and others, he co-founded the Ultraísta movement; he was a member of the Generation of ’27; and became an enthusiastic exponent of Creacionismo, a movement founded by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro. Born in Santander, Cendoya had written literary and music criticism for several newspapers, publishing his first poetry in 1920.
Louis Aragon (born Louis Andrieux; 3 October 1897 – 24 December 1982) was a champion of the French surrealist movement. He was born in Paris and believed until he was 19 that his mother and grandmother were his sister and foster mother. His mother had been seduced by a married man when she was seventeen. He turned to surrealism after five years as a Dadaist (1919-24). A devoted but by no means uncritical Communist from 1927, he wrote for the party’s newspaper, L’Humanité, from 1933. With his wife Elsa Triolet, whose sister was a partner of Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aragon went underground during the Second World War. They were in the Resistance as both writers and organizers. A post-war commitment would be his poetical tributes to the memory of the Resistance. As time went on, although Aragon was one of the leading figures among Communist intellectuals, his actions demonstrated his disgust with Soviet repression: he published writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Milan Kundera, the first novel (1964) of Christa Wolf, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar” (1967). He had also supported the Budapest insurrection of 1956. Nevertheless, his position as an official member of the French Communist Party’s central committee seems to have remained unchallenged. Louis Aragon wrote many novels and books of poetry, a great deal of which has inspired music. Countless poems by Aragon have been set to music and earned popularity as songs. Léo Ferré was the first to dedicate an entire album, 1961’s Les Chansons d’Aragon, to the poet’s verses.
We remain in France but move to film for our next birthday boy, Jean Grémillon (1901 – 25 November 1959). He concentrated on documentaries during the 1920s and went on to make some twenty feature films between 1928 (with the silent film Maldone) and 1954. The stamp conjures up his Gueule d’amour (Lady Killer, 1937), starring Jean Gabin.
Today we present here our first Inuit artist on stamps. Kenojuak Ashevak (Qinnuajuaq Aasivak, October 3, 1927 – January 8, 2013) was born in an igloo at the southern coast of Baffin Island. She learned the crafts of her people and took up drawing and carving. Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1950, she spent three years in a hospital in Quebec City. Happily she not only survived but lived well into her eighties, leaving us thousands of drawings, etchings, and prints. Two of these, Enchanted Owl and Return of the Sun, were selected for Canadian stamps in 1970 and 1980. In 2004 Ashevak designed a stained-glass window for the John Bell Chapel in Oakville, Ontario. Just this year, the Bank of Canada issued a commemorative $10 banknote showing Ashevak’s print Owl’s Bouquet.
The birth date of Israeli choreographer and song writer Sara Levi-Tanai remains uncertain. Born in Jerusalem some time around 1911, she became famous for her interpretations in dance and music of Jewish and Yemeni folklore. She founded the Inbal Dance Theater in 1950 and acted as its artistic director and was awarded the Israel Prize in 1973. She died on 3 October 2005.
The 3rd of October also saw the première of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard in 1888. Four G+S operettas were commemorated on a set of British stamps in 1992.
A few other nonphilatelic October 3 birthdays of note: Elizabethan poet and dramatist Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke (1554 – 30 September 1628), All Creatures Great and Small creator James Herriot (born James Alfred Wight; 1916 – 23 February 1995), American minimalist composer Steve Reich (born October 3, 1936), American singer Chubby Checker (born Ernest Evans, 1941), and “Cersei Lannister”, Lena Headey (born 1973).
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.