The Arts on Stamps of the World — October 30

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


By Doug Briscoe

Today we salute the great English architect Christopher Wren, painters Angelika Kauffmann and Alfred Sisley, poet Paul Valéry, and more.

Sir Christopher Wren (30 October 1632 [O.S. 20 October] – 8 March 1723 [O.S. 25 February]) would, one supposes, be a somewhat lesser figure had not London been ravaged by the Great Fire of 1666. Not only did it give him the opportunity for immortality that he richly deserves in the form of his greatest creation, St. Paul’s Cathedral (completed 1710), but it kept him busy with the rebuilding of fifty-one other churches in the city. Actually, he had already drawn up plans for a renovation of St. Paul’s for some time before the fire. Moreover, over his lifetime Wren worked on any number of other important projects, the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, the Royal Observatory, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Greenwich Hospital (now the Royal Naval College), and the Wren Building at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to name some of the most prominent. But it is St. Paul’s that gets all the glory on stamps. I show the familiar dome on three British stamps and one each from New Zealand and Dominica. Wren’s name appears on only the large sheet and on the stamp at lower left, one of a 2016 set commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire. (A cartoon is accompanied by the caption “Christopher Wren develops plans for the regeneration of the city and presents them to the king.”) We would be remiss not to mention Wren’s numerous other accomplishments as a scientist in the fields of anatomy, astronomy, geometry, physics, optics, mechanics, medicine, and so much more. He also served four terms as an MP. Wren’s image appeared on the reverse of the British £50 banknote between 1981 and 1996.


We turn back to the 16th century for French writer Jacques Amyot (30 October 1513 – 6 February 1593), proof, if any were needed, that from time to time in pre-modern society a gifted person could rise from poverty to mingle with kings. How he got his entrée to the University of Paris no one seems to know, but once there he made his way by serving a few of the richer students. He received his M.A. at Paris and was made a doctor of civil law at Bourges, where he became a professor of Greek and Latin and began his work as a translator with the Æthiopica of Heliodorus (1547). An award from Francis I, no less, allowed him to travel to the Vatican to further his translation of Plutarch’s Lives (1559-65). This work was in turn translated into English by Sir Thomas North, and in that version gave Shakespeare the historical substance for his Roman plays. Back in France, Amyot became tutor to the sons of Henry II and later received honors from Charles IX, Henry III, and Pope Pius V, who made him bishop of Auxerre in 1570. Amyot also translated Diodorus Siculus (1554) and the Daphnis et Chloë of Longus (1559).

Today’s AoSofW is top-heavy with figures from the 18th century, five of them. First comes Austrian painter Paul Troger (30 October 1698 – 20 July 1762), born in Tyrol. With patronage from local nobility, he was appenticed to Giuseppe Alberti in Fiume. Eight years later he returned to Italy for study in Venice, Rome, and Bologna with Sebastiano Ricci and Francesco Solimena. Troger worked in Salzburg for a couple of years, painting the ceiling of St. Cajetan’s Church (1722), before settling in Vienna, where he was named a professor and subsequently director of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. One of his students was Franz Anton Maulbertsch. It is another cupola fresco, the one at Altenburg Abbey that appears on the Austrian stamp. The section reproduced on the stamp is found at the bottom of the image. (Note that you can click on a link to a much more detailed image file.) As it may be difficult to see, I juxtapose a cropped detail.

Swedish painter Niklas Lafrensen (30 October 1737 – 6 December 1807), like his father, specialized in miniatures, otherwise working in gouache. He lived in France from 1774 to 1791, then fleeing the French Revolution for his homeland. One of his works, Banquet for Gustavus III at the Petit Trianon (1784), shows up on stamps of both France and Sweden.

The most celebrated of our 18th-century painters is surely Swiss artist Angelika Kauffmann (30 October 1741 – 5 November 1807), one of only two female founders of London’s Royal Academy in 1768. (The other woman was the English painter Mary Moser, whose birthday was just the other day—27 October—but for whom I could find no postage stamps. No stamps, no service.) Kauffmann was born in Chur to a modest painter for whom she worked as an assistant, painting her own Self-Portrait at the age of 12. In this piece, Angelika, a child prodigy who quickly learned German, Italian, French, and English, is shown with a sheet of music, as she had also considered a vocation as an opera singer. After the death of her mother, her father moved with Angelika to Milan, and they traveled throughout Italy, where the girl made favorable impressions with her artistic gifts and her facility with languages. Through British visitors in Venice she was introduced to England and painted a portrait of the actor David Garrick soon after her arrival there. Kauffmann (usually spelled in English with a single “n”) became very friendly with Sir Joshua Reynolds, and they made portraits of each other. While in London, Kauffman may have had an affair with Jean-Paul Marat. On her return to the continent, she befriended Goethe at Rome, where she lived the final years of her life. Though she was primarily a painter of historical works, allegories, and mythological pieces, the stamps show only her various self-portraits: the two stamps from Austria give us two pieces with the same title, Self-Portrait in the Traditional Costume of the Bregenz Forest, the first dated c1757-59 and the second from 1781. The Liechtenstein stamp presents a third self-portrait (c1780). An interesting variant (not on a stamp) is Self-Portrait Hesitating Between Painting and Music (1794). A canvas on a similar theme is Poetry Embracing Painting (1782). One of her English pieces is Scene with Miranda and Ferdinand (1782). Kauffmann’s image once graced the Austrian 100 Schilling banknote.


French poet André Chénier is perhaps more famous because of the opera about him written by Umberto Giordano. Chénier was born on 30 October 1762 in Constantinople to a French father and Greek mother. After twenty years as a merchant in the Levant, Chénier’s father had become a diplomat at the Ottoman Porte, but returned to France when André was three. While at college he made some admired translations from classical verse and then turned to original composition, after a fashion conceiving the plan of abridging and transforming Diderot’s Encyclopédie into a long poem, a plan that was never fully realized. Chénier was in London from 1787 to 1790 but didn’t like it. As a royalist, he wrote satiric verses critical of the National Convention. After the execution of Louis XVI Chénier went into hiding for a year but did not escape the ravenous maw of the Revolution. One of the last victims of Robespierre, he was guillotined on 25 July 1794. In one of history’s most satisfying what-goes-around-comes-around payoffs, Robespierre himself was executed three days later. Besides, if Chénier had survived, there’d be no opera. The stamp is based on the portrait made by Joseph-Benoît Suvée (1743–1807) just ten days before Chénier’s death. The daring versifier’s younger brother Marie-Joseph de Chénier (1764–1811) was a successful poet and playwright.

Now I step upon uncertain ground. I think I have the right guy here, but am confused by the tradition of Japanese Kabuki actors to adopt the name of their distinguished predecessors. One such case is that of Ichikawa Danjūrō V, who died on this date in 1806. Born in August 1741, he became the fifth incarnation in the line of actors to use that name and one of the greatest of any name. (To complicate matters even further, he was also known after 1791 as Ichikawa Ebizo.) Part of the reason for Ichikawa’s fame was that, unlike most other actors, who became associated with one character type, he diversified by playing heroes and villains, peasants and samurai, and women’s roles. As for the stamp—and herein lies my dubiety—one online source cites it as depicting Ichikawa Danjūrō IV (1754–1770); but given the reputation of that actor’s successor (ID V) and the fact that he was very frequently represented on ukiyo-e prints, I’m confident that with this stamp we have found our man. I welcome enlightenment.

At last we move into the 19th century. Polish violin virtuoso Karol Lipiński (30 October 1790 – 16 December 1861) wrote four concertos and other pieces for his instrument, as well as three symphonies. He met Paganini (whose birthday was just three days ago) in Italy and performed with him in two concerts. There is a Karol Lipiński University of Music in Wrocław and a Karol Lipiński and Henryk Wieniawski International Competition for Young Violinists based in Lublin (not to be confused with the more familiar Wieniawski Competition, based in Poznań). No stamp for Lipiński, but there is this postal card, onto which I have superimposed…
…Austrian painter Wilhelm August Rieder (30 October 1796 – 8 September 1880), the son of a composer, Ambros Rieder (1771–1855), who wrote over 500 sacred works. Wilhelm was a student of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he met Franz Schubert. It is his portraits of the great composer for which Rieder is most famous, though he also painted religious and historical canvases. The 1875 portrait of Schubert (executed 44 years after the composer’s death) has been resurrected on a number of stamps. I show one from India (of all places). The Mexican stamp next to it is based on an earlier watercolor done in 1825 from which the 1875 oil painting is derived.

One of the finest of the Impressionist painters of the second tier was Alfred Sisley (1839 – 29 January 1899). He was born in Paris to British parents, spent four years studying law in London, but gave it up in the end and returned to France and the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied alongside Renoir and Monet (whose birthday is two weeks away). The first of Sisley’s three return trips to England saw the production of Regatta at Molesey, the first of two Sisley stamps from Monaco, and Under the Bridge at Hampton Court (both 1874), on a stamp from the Central African Republic. The other Monaco stamp presents The Flooding of Port Marly (1876), one of Sisley’s favorite spots in France. An even more beloved location was Moret-sur-Loing, where Sisley painted quite a number of views almost identical to this one of 1891, seen on a stamp from a Chadian set. (Compare these three pictures of 1892: The Moret Bridge in the Sunlight and …at Sunset and again.) In the second row are The Bourgogne Lock at Moret (1882, on the Czech stamp), Watermill near Moret (1883, Chad again), The Church at Moret in Morning Sun (1893, stamp of Romania), and again one of a number of very similar pieces, Lane of Poplars at Moret (on French stamp of 1974). (Compare, for example, this variant dated 1888.) A more recent French stamp shows L’Ile de la Grand Jatte, Neuilly sur Seine (1873). Early Snow at Louveciennes (1870) is reproduced on a stamp of Paraguay.
Far to the southwest of Moret-sur-Loing is Montauban, the birthplace of Antoine Bourdelle (30 October 1861 – 1 October 1929), who was christened Émile Antoine Bordelles. His father was a cabinet maker, and Antoine started as a woodcarver. He learned drawing in his hometown and sculpture at Toulouse. Like Sisley he also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, though, of course, many years later. He fashioned a number of craggy heads of Beethoven (see here, here, and here for examples) in a style that was much admired by Rodin (whose birthday is coming up in a fortnight). Bourdelle in fact became Rodin’s assistant. Later works included the bas-relief La Danse (1912), seen on one of the two stamps remembering the artist, the sinewy and vigorous Hercules the Archer (1909), the still exuberant but more playful First Victory of Hannibal (1885), and the gentler and more relaxed piece The Fruit (1911).


We remain in France for one more personage: poet and philosopher Paul Valéry (30 October 1871 – 20 July 1945), a frequent Nobel Prize nominee. His father was Corsican, his mother Genoese-Istrian, and he was reared in Montpellier. He was a friend of Stéphane Mallarmé and married one of his friends, Jeannie Gobillard, a niece of Berthe Morisot. Valéry wrote and published in his youth, but he was nearly 50 before devoting himself to it full-time. In fact, there was a period of some two decades (from 1898) during which he published nothing at all. Then he came out with one of his finest creations, La Jeune Parque, a poem he’d been working on for four years. Though seen primarily as a poet, Valéry’s prose writings are much more extensive, including his vast Cahiers (Notebooks), published posthumously.

Russian composer Anatoli Novikov (30 October [O.S. 18 October] 1896 — 24 September 1984) studied at the Moscow Conservatory under Glière. He held various positions in the Soviet musical hierarchy and was twice awarded the Stalin Prize, along with other distinctions. His success was no doubt due to his having composed five or six hundred patriotic songs with such endearing titles as “Hymn of Democratic Youth of the World” and “March of the Communist Brigades”. He also composed six musical commies—uh, I mean, comedies.

We conclude today with the Mexican composer of over 700 songs Agustín Lara (October 30, 1897– November 6, 1970). He was born—take a breath—Ángel Agustín María Carlos Fausto Mariano Alfonso del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Lara y Aguirre del Pino (breathe out). His most famous song must surely be the tuneful “Granada”, though “Solamente una vez (You Belong to My Heart)” may give it a run for its money. Both songs were recorded by the most prominent tenors, Caruso, Mario Lanza, Pavarotti.

I know that Fritz Wunderlich also made a robust and gorgeously intoned recording of “Granada”. Lara worked in cabaret from 1927, in radio from 1930. Around the same time he became a composer of film songs and occasionally appeared in movies as an actor. During his lifetime a Mexican biopic was made (The Life of Agustín Lara, 1959). In a bizarre development, Francisco Franco, who it seems was a big fan, especially of Lara’s Spanish-themed songs, gave him a house in—you guessed it—Granada.

There are no stamps for the writers Richard Brinsley Sheridan (30 October 1751 – 7 July 1816) nor for Ezra Pound (30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972), nor is there one for French film director Louis Malle (30 October 1932 – 23 November 1995).

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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