An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Our most celebrated names today form quite a mixed bag: Sir Walter Raleigh, Fanny Brice, Bill Mauldin, and Jon Vickers. October 29 is also the anniversary of the première of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Korean artists have appeared rarely in these pages, partly because of my ignorance of the culture, to be sure, but also because stamps honoring them seem to be scarce. Sin Saimdang (October 29, 1504 – May 17, 1551) benefited from a grandfather who educated her like a boy (likely only because he had no grandsons) and from a husband who did not stifle her creativity. She excelled as a writer, painter (here is an example), calligraphist, and poet and was also the mother of the prominent Confucian scholar Yi I (1536-1584). The image on the stamp, which I at first assumed was a modern artist’s conception, appears actually to be taken from a contemporary (?) portrait. This seems also to have served as the starting point for the design used on the South Korean 50,000 won banknote, the first instance of a woman being thus represented on South Korean currency (2009). It happens that this year saw the broadcast in South Korea of a TV series about her, Saimdang, Light’s Diary.
Two Englishmen separated by two centuries both died on an October 29th. The earlier is by far the better known. The storied exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh, born about 1554 (though some scholars propose 22 January 1552), do not concern us here so much as does the poetry he composed. Raleigh’s address to hypocrisy, “The Lie”, is perhaps his best known effort.
Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it metes but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust…
He also wrote a mocking poetical reply to Christopher Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (“Come live with me and be my love, / And we will all the pleasures prove”) called “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”:
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
Much of Raleigh’s writing was undertaken while he was held prisoner in the Tower of London. He was executed on this date in 1618.
William Wyon (1795 – 29 October 1851) was the official chief engraver at the Royal Mint from 1828 until his death. He produced a great number of coins and medals, and his model of the head of fifteen-year-old Princess Victoria was later used for the City Medal, a commemorative coin marking her first visit to London as Queen (look for “W. WYON” on the neckline); this image was in turn used for British postage stamps from their introduction in 1840, beginning with the famous Penny Black, to 1879. Wyon’s son Leonard Charles Wyon, whose birthday is next month, was also an engraver.
Russian painter Andrei Ryabushkin (29 October [O.S. 17 October] 1861 – 10 May [O.S. 27 April] 1904) was devoted to resurrecting on canvas the lives of ordinary people of the seventeenth century. Born in Tambov province into a family of icon painters, he was orphaned at 14. Luckily, a Moscow art student happened to be visiting his village and saw the boy’s drawings; impressed, he gave him lessons and helped get him enrolled at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, one of the youngest students ever admitted. Ryabushkin’s first large-scale painting, Peasant Wedding in Tambov Province, was purchased by Pavel Tretyakov (for whom the Tretyakov Gallery is named) in 1880. After the death of Ryabushkin’s teacher Vasiliy Perov, he relocated to Saint Petersburg and continued his studies with another renowned figure in Russian art, Pavel Chistyakov. The piece he created as his graduation exercise varied in its topic from the assignment, so he was refused a diploma, yet the work was so admired that the academy’s president, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, gave the young artist a stipend for travel abroad. Again, Ryabushkin put his own twist on things and traveled instead to old towns of Russia, such as Novgorod, Kiev, and Yaroslavl, to study native folk crafts, embroidery, icons, and the like. He built his studio in the village of Didvino in 1901, where he produced his historical paintings, once again breaking the mold by concentrating on the daily lives of the regular people rather than on momentous occasions such as battles and coronations. Other work included frescoes in Novgorod’s Saint Sophia Cathedral and mosaics for Saint Petersburg’s Church of the Savior. He fell victim to tuberculosis at age 42. The Soviet stamp offers one of his sweeping canvases, Wedding Train in 17th century Moscow (1895). Another similar picture is Moscow Street of XVII Century on a Holiday (1895). One of religious paintings, again on a grand scale with a sparkling palette, is Esther Before Ahasuerus (1887). For more on Ryabushkin, see Jim Lane’s article.
Romanian painter Jean Steriadi (29 October 1880 – 23 November 1956) studied in Bucharest and Munich and lived in Paris from 1903 to 1906. He had his first solo exhibition back in Bucharest in 1906 and took up teaching in that city. He also worked as a lithographer and caricaturist. Though one of his specialties was portraits, the stamps, other than his Self-Portrait of 1956, do not reflect it, but show instead Washerwomen on a stamp of 1969 and two of his boat pictures, one of which, Ships in the Port of Brăila, was chosen for two stamps issued years apart, in 1977 and 2003. A companion stamp in the 2003 issue offers Steriadi’s Fishing Boats.
French playwright Jean Giraudoux (29 October 1882 – 31 January 1944) was also a novelist and diplomat, but it is for the plays—most notably for English-speaking audiences, The Madwoman of Chaillot—that he is most recognized. Much traveled in his youth, he taught French for a time (September 1907 to March 1908) at Harvard. His first published work, a short story collection, Provinciales, came out in 1909. He served in World War I at the Marne and at Gallipoli, was seriously wounded, and married at war’s end. His first novel was published at that time, and he went on to a dual life as writer and diplomat, being named Commissaire général à l’Information, a sort of propaganda minister, in 1939-40. A lifelong Germanophile, his relationship with the occupying forces during the war has been seen as problematic. He is believed to have died of pancreatitis, but there are those who maintain he was poisoned by the Gestapo.
We (some of us, anyway) know Fania Borach (October 29, 1891 – May 29, 1951) better as Fanny Brice. Born in New York City, she worked in burlesque and was a headliner for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1910-11, returning ten years later for a much longer engagement. She performed on Broadway and in films, and played on radio for the last twenty years of her life. (Her character Baby Snooks had been created by last week’s birthday subject Moss Hart.) The last of her three husbands was stage producer Billy Rose. Brice appeared only one time on television, in 1950, on a CBS show called Popsicle Parade of Stars. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Hollywood. Her story, brought to stage (1964) and screen (1968) as Funny Girl, starred Barbra Streisand.
Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Israeli illustrator and cartoonist Friedel Stern (1917 – October 29, 2006). Born in Leipzig, she immigrated to Palestine in 1936. During the war she served as a nurse with the British army and sketched the soldiers. After the war she began signing her work as “Friedel” with a star, the word “Stern” being German for star. In the 50s and 60s she designed posters for the Philatelist Service and the Israeli Post Office, and in 1960 her designs were used for a series of air mail stamps. Each one shows a city or other site in Israel in Stern’s drawings. I offer half the set of ten: from left to right, Old Town, Zefat; Afridar center, Ashkelon; Acre, tower and boats; Tiberias, tower and lake; and Elat, beach.
Another cartoonist, one whose work is of iconic and even historic stature in the United States, was Bill Mauldin (October 29, 1921 – January 22, 2003), born four years to the day after Stern. His creations of dogface soldiers and buddies Willie and Joe were a great morale builder not only for GIs, but for Americans at home. Mauldin was born in New Mexico (that may be a first here on AoSofW) and grew up there and in Phoenix. He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts but had little chance to make use of what he learned before joining the army in 1940 (that is, well before Pearl Harbor). Mauldin’s work for Stars and Stripes struck a responsive chord with most, but it struck a nerve with George S. Patton, who called Mauldin an “unpatriotic anarchist” for daring to show American troops unshaven and with dirty boots. Dwight Eisenhower got on the horn and told Patton to back off. Mauldin won his first Pulitzer in 1945, when he was all of 23. Willie was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Mauldin’s second Pulitzer came in 1959 for a single cartoon, one showing Boris Pasternak in a gulag with another prisoner. The caption reads, “I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?” Mauldin was also a writer of 18 books and worked as a magazine illustrator. Patton has one US postage stamp, and Bill Mauldin has one. That seems about right to me.
The great Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who died just two years ago (on July 10, 2015), would have been 92 today. He joined the Covent Garden Opera in 1957, appeared at Bayreuth in 1958, and began his 22-year association with the Met in 1960. One of his more celebrated rôles was as Britten’s Peter Grimes, in which guise he appears on the stamp issued in his honor in 2006.
Today is also the 230th anniversary of the première of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Among the plethora of existing Mozart stamps, quite a few show scenes from the “dramma giocoso” that many music lovers hold to be his greatest opera. The Monaco stamp was specifically issued in 1987 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the première. The two Czech stamps at lower left depict the little house known as the Bertramka, where Mozart was said to have worked on the opera (he probably didn’t), and the theater where it had its première, which is also seen on the Bohemian (Böhmen und Mähren) pair, whose accompanying labels the quote the music. That’s Eberhard Wächter as the Don in the Austrian stamp in the middle. The French stamp at upper right comes from a set showing costumes from various Mozart operas.
Two Englishmen of distinction, both suffering from the indignity of stamplessness, are novelist Henry Green (pen name of Henry Vincent Yorke, 29 October 1905 – 13 December 1973), and the late actor Robert Hardy (29 October 1925 – 3 August 2017), who just passed away two months ago.
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.