An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
For this day we have two important writers, Sainte-Beuve and Lampedusa, an early Italian painter, portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh, and a number of artists of Hispanic background, albeit geographically disparate: Cuban bandleader Miguel Faílde, Nobel Prize-winning Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, Filipino painter Victorio Edades, and Cape Verdean writer Manuel Lopes. They are joined by another painter, the American John Marin.
I am pleased to be able to present William Marx with a year’s end, combination belated birthday/winter solstice holiday gift in the form of another critic on a stamp. French writer Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (23 December 1804 – 13 October 1869) wrote literary articles and reviews from about the age of 19. The first of his books was an overview of 16th-century French poetry and theater in two volumes. There followed books of poetry and three unsuccessful novels. A fourth, La pendule, would not appear for another forty years (1880). In the meantime an expansive array of historical, critical, and theoretical works, often in multiple volumes, occupied Sainte-Beuve’s industrious pen. A couple of his poems were selected for musical setting by Saint-Saëns (“Dans les coins bleus parsemés d’or“) and Charles Tomlinson Griffes (“Sur ma lyre, l’autre fois“).
The author of the celebrated novel The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1896 – July 26, 1957) also wrote some criticism, Lessons on Stendhal and Introduction to Sixteenth-Century French Literature, both published, like all his written work, posthumously. Born in Palermo, he was the last Prince of Lampedusa. His privileged childhood was followed by service in World War I; he was captured at Caporetto, held in a POW camp in Hungary, escaped, and made it back to Italy. Apart from this adventure, his life was mostly one of reading, study, and meditation. He married in 1932 and died of lung cancer at 60. Besides the above-mentioned works, Lampedusa penned a short story collection and a novella, The Professor and the Siren, and just recently an edition of his letters was published in English (Letters from London and Europe, 2010). The Leopard, of course, was made into a film masterpiece by Luchino Visconti in 1963.
We remain in Italy but revert to a much earlier era for the painter Bartolomeo Schedoni, who died on this date in 1615. He was born in Modena in 1578 and worked there (patronized by Cesare d’Este) as well as in Parma (for the Duke, Ranuccio I Farnese) and Rome. It seems Schedoni was a man of uncontrollable temper who was twice imprisoned for assault and may have committed suicide in a rage over gambling losses. The only Schedoni work I could find on a stamp was this one from Cambodia, a St. Cecilia of 1610.
Today is the birthday of Miguel Faílde, who is credited with the creation of the Cuban dance form the danzón. (The composer Manuel Saumell has also been named as its originator, but the Cuban government recognized Faílde as the official inventor in 1960. Saumell apparently has no stamp.) Miguel Ramón Demetrio Faílde y Pérez was born on 23 December 1852 in Matanzas. He learned music from his father, played cornet at age twelve, and also learned to play viola and double bass. In 1871 he founded his own orchestra, the Orquesta Faílde, which performed for fifty years, right up until his death on 26 December 1921, three days after his 69th birthday. I quote Wikipedia: “Danzón is the official musical genre and dance of Cuba. It is also an active musical form in Mexico, and is still much loved in Puerto Rico. Written in 2/4 time, the danzón is a slow, formal partner dance, requiring set footwork around syncopated beats, and incorporating elegant pauses while the couples stand listening to virtuoso instrumental passages, as characteristically played by a charanga or tipica ensemble.” Faílde’s first danzón was “Las alturas de Simpson” (Simpson Heights) of 1879.
American modernist artist John Marin (December 23, 1870 – October 2, 1953) lost his mother when he was nine days old and was reared by two aunts in Weehawken, New Jersey. He hoped at first to become an architect but turned to painting and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy under William Merritt Chase and in New York. It was there in 1909 that he had his first solo show at Alfred Stieglitz’s studio 291. The two men would form a close professional relationship that would last for forty years. Marin’s work was also shown at the famous 1913 Armory Show. He divided much of his life between his native New Jersey and his beloved Maine, whose rocky shore was a favorite subject (and beats back the envious siege of watery Neptune). A number of his drawings and watercolors are housed at the Fogg Art Museum. The stamp shows his Sunset, Maine Coast (1919), painted just five years after Marin visited Maine for the first time.
Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez (23 December 1881 – 29 May 1958) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956. In 1900, when he was 18, he had the pleasure of seeing two books published but the sorrow of losing his father, an event that so depressed Jiménez that he spent two years in a Madrid sanatorium. One of the best known of his many works, the prose poem Platero y yo (Platero and I, 1914), was set to music (narrator and guitar) by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in 1960. In 1916 Jiménez married the writer Zenobia Camprubí and moved to Portugal. With the coming of the Spanish Civil War the couple relocated to Puerto Rico, where they lived and taught for the rest of their lives, though Jiménez also had teaching positions at the Universities of Miami and Maryland. Always subject to depression, Jiménez had to be hospitalized once again for a period of eight months, and he never fully recovered from his wife’s death, which occurred two days after he had received his Nobel Prize.
The Filipino painter Victorio Edades (December 23, 1895 – March 7, 1985) introduced modernism to his country, not without birth pangs. Exhibiting talent for art, writing, and debate from childhood, he studied architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle. (Later, in 1930, he would help create an Architecture Department at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and would serve as its director.) While in the United States he visited an exhibition of works by Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, et al., and on his return to the Philippines in 1928 he determined to shake up the establishment with a show of thirty of his own new paintings. Not a single one sold, but it was a shot across the bow for modernism, and Edades become the de facto leader of the Filipino group Thirteen Moderns, which included Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Botong Francisco, and Vicente Manansala. The second of the stamps from 1995 shows Two Igorot Women (1937).
Over the course of his 97 years, Manuel Lopes (December 23, 1907 – January 25, 2005) saw his native Cape Verde move from a Portuguese colony to an independent island nation. He went to school in Portugal up to the age of 16, but otherwise he lived on the islands of Cape Verde or the Azores until 1955, whereupon he settled permanently on the mainland. In his novels and poems, as in his nonfiction, Lopes deals with the challenges—poverty, exploitation, natural disaster—of his people and the quandary of the choice they face between escape and remaining behind to make a better future. He was nearly fifty when he wrote his first novel, Chuva Braba (The Beating Rain, 1956). The source of the quotation cited on the stamp I cannot find, but it translates approximately as “There are struggles I desire with the indomitable anxiety of a horse stuck by the side of the road all day long.”
The prominent portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh (December 23, 1908 – July 13, 2002) was born in southeastern Anatolia to Armenian parents. The family suffered losses to the Genocide before they managed to reach safety in a refugee camp in Aleppo in 1922. The Karshes sent young Yousuf to Canada to be with his uncle, who happened to be a portrait photographer. From him and from Boston-based John H. Garo young Karsh learned his craft. In 1932 he opened his own studio in Ottawa, and there he would remain for forty years (he later moved to another building in the same city). It was his justly famous portrait of Winston Churchill in 1941—seen at the center of the souvenir sheet honoring Karsh’s centenary in 2008—that made the photographer’s name. In addition to the Audrey Hepburn (1956) and self-portrait (1952) stamps, an array of celebrated persons photographed by Karsh appears along the left and upper sides of the sheet, and a separate Canadian issue from last year shows Karsh’s 1936 portrait of the conservationist who called himself Grey Owl. Five years after his retirement in 1992, Karsh moved back to Boston. He died at Brigham and Women’s.
Happy birthday to American poet Robert Bly (born December 23, 1926). Still stampless are flamenco dancer José Greco (December 23, 1918 – December 31, 2000) and English poet Michael Drayton (1563 – 23 December 1631).
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.