The Arts on Stamps of the World — December 10

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


By Doug Briscoe

Queen for a Day, if the day is December 10, is the inimitable Emily Dickinson, who was born on this date in 1830 and died on May 15, 1886. The reclusive “Belle of Amherst” saw only a dozen of her 1800 poems through publication in her lifetime. The first book of them came out only in 1890, followed by more volumes in 1891 and 1896. The first scholarly edition had to wait until 1955. A great many of the poems have found musical realization in the works of (ready?) Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, Leon Kirchner, Ned Rorem, Roy Harris, Vincent Persichetti, John Duke, Daniel Pinkham, George Walker, Lee Hoiby, Ulysses Kay, Jean Berger, Otto Luening, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Robert Starer, Ernst Bacon, Wallingford Riegger, Robert Baksa, Augusta Read Thomas, Ezra Laderman, Vivian Fine, Peter Mennin, William Bolcom, Anthony Iannaccone, George Perle, Louise Talma, Robert Ward, and Arthur Farwell, to name a lot.

Baptized on this day in 1610, Dutch painter Adriaen Jansz Hendricx adopted the name
Adriaen van Ostade even though he had been born in Haarlem. (His father was from Ostade.) He and his brothers were said to be pupils of Frans Hals. Van Ostade’s work was principally in genre pictures of peasants, village scenes, etc. The Cuban stamp offers one of these, Peasants in Front of a Tavern. I couldn’t find an image of this particular painting online, but van Ostade executed a number of similar pieces, such as Peasants Drinking and Making Music in a Barn, Peasants in a Tavern (c1635), and Country Concert (c1636). Probably his most famous pupil was Jan Steen. The exact date of van Ostade’s death is unknown, but he was buried on 2 May 1685.

When Russian poet Nikolay Nekrasov (December 10 [O.S. November 28] 1821 – 8 January 1878 [O.S. 28 December 1877]) refused to join the cadet corps, his father cut his allowance and left the stubborn Nikolay to fend for himself in Saint Petersburg, which he did for about three years. Nekrasov eventually stabilized his situation by tutoring and finally getting some pieces published in periodicals. His first volume of poetry came out in early 1840, and within months Nekrasov bought up as many copies as he could to destroy them. He intensified his output, adding literary criticism and plays to his poetry and miscellaneous writing. He achieved enough of a reputation to be reconciled to his father, who, it turned out, was rather proud of him. In the mid-1840s Nekrasov began putting out the first of several literary journals that included, among other things, Dostoyevsky’s first novel Poor Folk. Because of his liberalism, Nekrasov was under surveillance by Tsarist police and cleverly got on the good side of censors by befriending them and widening his social contacts. His collected poems of 1855 proved a great success. When he died of intestinal cancer at age 56, his funeral was attended by four thousand people. Nekrasov gave us poetry that was set by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Glazunov, Taneyev, Cui, and, in translation, Massenet.


On the subject of French composers, December 10 is the birthday of César Franck (1822 – 8 November 1890). I was surprised to learn that as a child he studied in Paris with Beethoven’s friend Anton Reicha! Himself a great teacher, Franck’s students at the Paris Conservatory included d’Indy, Chausson, Vierne, Duparc, Tournemire, and Guillaume Lekeu. His best known works are the Symphony in d minor, the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, and the Violin Sonata that is the likeliest candidate as model for the Vinteuil Sonata in Proust.

A child of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Adolf Loos (10 December 1870 – 23 August 1933), born in Brno, developed into an important architect who pioneered the transition from the fin de siècle and the Vienna Secession to the modern style. His father was a stonemason with a hearing impairment that he passed on to his son. Loos was completely deaf until age 12. He studied at Brno and Dresden and lived with relatives in the United States in the years 1893-96. Based in Philadelphia, he visited Chicago, St. Louis, and New York. On his return to Europe he took residence in Vienna and determined on a career in architecture. He expressed his ideas on art in various bold essays. His most renowned building is the Loos House (1910-12), an exemplar of his proto-less-is-more philosophy. It earned the nickname, “the house without eyebrows” because of its lack of ornamentation and awnings. Emperor Franz Josef I loathed it, so he probably wouldn’t have approved of the 1995 stamp honoring Loos by showing that very building. (Was ist denn los?) Loos numbered Ludwig Wittgenstein and Arnold Schoenberg among his friends and built a house for Tristan Tzara. In addition to his debilitating deafness, Loos suffered through three failed marriages, had his stomach and a portion of his intestine removed because of cancer, and was convicted of child abuse with 8-to-10-year-old girls in 1928. He served four months.

Also born on December 10 was Greek composer Marios Varvoglis (1885 – 30 July 1967), who was the subject of a portrait by Modigliani, which in turn was reproduced on a stamp from Djibouti! Born in Brussels, Varvoglis studied in Paris and taught at the conservatory in Athens. He wrote incidental music for a number of classical Greek tragedies as well as for The Birds by Aristophanes. There are also two operas, orchestral, chamber, and piano music, and songs.

Much like Emily Dickinson, poet Nelly Sachs (10 December 1891 – 12 May 1970) was sheltered and introverted. Her health was delicate, physically and mentally, and the rise of Nazism so terrified her that she temporarily lost the power of speech. Born in Berlin to an affluent merchant family, she formed a friendship with Selma Lagerlöf, who helped Sachs and her mother get out of Germany days before her scheduled transport to a concentration camp. (Sachs’s father had died in 1930.) In Sweden she supported herself and her mother through translations and continued writing poetry, the first volume of which appeared in 1947. Her mother died in 1950, and Sachs became a Swedish citizen in 1952. In 1961 the Nelly Sachs Prize was established by the city of Dortmund, with Sachs herself the first recipient. (Later winners have included Elias Canetti, Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera, and Margaret Atwood.) She shared the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature with Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon.

English children’s author Mary Norton (née Kathleen Mary Pearson, 10 December 1903 – 29 August 1992) wrote the series of books The Borrowers, beginning in 1952. This had been preceded by two other children’s books, The Magic Bed Knob (1945) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947), which was made into the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks many years later (1971). The Borrowers stories have been translated to the small screen a number of times, most recently in a 2011 TV film with Stephen Fry.

Three actors come next. Amedeo Nazzari (10 December 1907 – 5 November 1979) was seen as a sort of Italian Errol Flynn. He was born Amadeo Buffa in Sardinia and took the name of his maternal grandfather when he went on the stage. He hoped to become the new Rudolph Valentino, but Twentieth Century Fox chose Alberto Rabagliati instead. (When that didn’t work out, Rabagliati turned singer and toured with Lecuona’s Cuban Boys.) Nazzari appeared in several films beginning in 1935 and became a matinee idol with Luciano Serra, Pilot (1938). He continued to ride high during the war years despite having turned down a personal invitation from Mussolini to join the fascist party, and his career thrived into the 1970s. He played a character modeled on himself in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957). One of his last roles was in the Charles Bronson mob movie The Valachi Papers (1972).


American actress and singer Dorothy Lamour (née Slaton, December 10, 1914 – September 22, 1996) took her stage name from her stepfather Clarence Lambour. At sixteen she was crowned Miss New Orleans, moved to Chicago, and was spotted by Herbie Kay, whom she later married, in a talent show. She went on tour with Kay’s band and by age 20 had her own radio show. The next year she started in the movies and had a hit with The Jungle Princess (1936), making of her “The Sarong Queen”. From 1940 she starred in the famous series of “Road” pictures with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. She was a pinup favorite during World War II and concentrated on stage work in her later years.

The Canadian actor John Colicos (December 10, 1928 – March 6, 2000) appears on two Star Trek stamps, one from Canada and one from Ghana, in his Klingon makeup for the role of Commander Kor. (He would reprise this 1967 role in three episodes of DS9.) But Colicos had a much broader career than that, ranging from the Shakespearean stage to film to primetime television (often as a villain) to daytime soap operas. He had a memorable bit as Thomas Cromwell in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and a small role in the terrific haunted house picture The Changeling (1980) with George C. Scott. Wikipedia informs us that “The last person shot and killed in the television series Gunsmoke…was…played by Colicos in episode 631.”

I’ve debated with myself from time to time whether to present all the birthday people first, and only then those who died on the date (only if their birth dates are unknown), and finally anniversaries of premières, theater openings, etc. Mostly I’ve presented the artists in more or less chronological order, starting with the most illustrious names, but today I thought I’d mix things up by placing the early Italian painter Paolo Uccello, who died on this date in 1475, after all the birthday kids. Born with the name Paolo di Dono in 1397, he came to be known as Uccello because of his fondness for painting birds. He was apprenticed to the great sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti from the ages of about 15 to 19, and from him Uccello absorbed his Late Gothic style. It’s possible that Ghiberti’s design for a battle scene on his doors for the Florence Baptistery may have inspired Uccello’s later masterpieces, the Battle of San Romano, scenes from which appear on a grand, albeit monochrome set of four stamps from San Marino. The first stamp shows a detail from the right side of Niccolò da Tolentino Leads the Florentine Troops (c1438-40); in the next two stamps we have Niccolò da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Ciarda (dating uncertain); and in the last stamp we see the central detail of The Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola (c1455). Uccello was a longtime friend of Donatello, whom we’ll be celebrating here in three days’ time. As an independent artist Uccello worked in Florence, Venice, and Padua and began to concern himself with matters of perspective, approached with a mathematician’s precision. On the Italian stamp of 1997 is the fifth of the six panels from the predella The Miracle of Ostia, painted for Urbino around 1467-69. The stamp of Grenada reproduces Portrait of a Lady (1450).

I’m greatly surprised that France did not issue a centenary stamp in 2008 for Olivier Messiaen, who lived from December 10, 1908 to April 27, 1992. Another Frenchman who is not yet on a stamp is the writer of voluptuous prose and verse Pierre Louÿs (10 December 1870 – 6 June 1925). I predict that someday there will be one for Sir Kenneth Branagh (born 10 December 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.

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