Flashback: Postally Used Works of Art

A postage stamp is an amazing masterpiece of so to say “philatelic art” and serves as a reflection of human work and activity. Philatelists or stamp collectors in a process of stamp’s study are absorbed in a magic world of postage miniatures; they become travelers and historians, discoverers and art critics.


Images on the stamps amaze by their variety, which depends on country’s cultural heritage, where they are created. Every country tries to present the most significant achievements of its people in every spheres of life with the help of these tiny items. One of such popular sphere is a pictorial art, which includes famous paintings and works of outstanding artists and sculptors.

Before designing stamps based on some work of art stamp-designers study carefully if one or another masterpiece will be a good stamp subject. In July 1943 American Collector magazine published a great variety of stamps, which were issued in a period of 1933-1948 and were dedicated to work of arts, in a majority to portraits depicted on philatelic items.

Paul Manship, a sculptor, believes that most of the pictures are too difficult to depict on stamps, but some portraits, such as “Atheneum” (George Washington) by Gilbert Stuart or five-cent stamp of the Franklin portrait by James B. Longacre are good to use for this purpose. Also he is certain that portraits shouldn’t be changed for post office`s advantages, as it happened with a stamp depicting “Portrait of My Mother” by Whistler.

This stamp was produced in 1934 with a value of three cent to honor the mothers of America. Whistler’s mother was depicted with chopped legs and one new detail ¬¬¬¬– a vase of flowers. It was added with a purpose to popularize flower presents for Mother’s Day and in such a way to increase flower sales.

To commemorate the General’s bicentennial in 1932, twelve stamp sets of four heads of Washington were released. Talented portrait painters such as Ch.Peale, G. Stuart, Jh. Trumbull, Ch. B. J. F. Memin, W. Williams created the most felicitous collections.

Not only statesmen, but also brave commodores and commanders were honored with postage stamps. So, a bronze statue of Daniel Ch. French, named “The Minute Man” became the subject for the five cent stamp in 1925 that was dedicated to 150th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington. Later this figure became a common symbol of war and a tragedy of any generation.

Aside from the stamps with portraits and busts of statesmen, stamps with some historical pictures were also presented in a stamp production of XIX century. But it should be noticed that they were in disfavor among philatelists who preferred the items with personalities depicted on them.

Although in historical stamps the features of original works of art were saved almost always. One of the most successful historical images is considered to be depicted on the fifteen cent stamp “The Landing of Columbus” by John Vanderlyn. This stamp is an exact copy of heroic painting which is saved in the United States Capitol in Washington.

It appeared in 1869 in the Columbian series. It was so popular, that in twenty-four years this painting was used on the two cent stamp one more time. The Columbian stamp series also includes such the images of such paintings as “Columbus Soliciting Aid of Isabella” by Brozik, “Columbus Announcing His Discovery” by R. Balaca, “Isabella Pledging Her Jewels,” by M. Degrain, “Columbus Describing His Third Voyage” by Jover and others. These pictures were painted in different countries, but were collected in a single stamp collection.

Another great historical event of later period in America is signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Trumbull painted the distinguished political leaders, who were involved in this remarkable event, on his canvas titled “Signing the Declaration of Independence”. One of these paintings made the basis for the twenty-four cent stamp of 1869. The item depicted this remarkable event in details. P. Manship marks that there were some difficulties to place a lot of tiny details on a few millimeters, but stamp adaptors coped with the task.

One more stamp named “A hemisphere of good neighbors” is also should be noticed in this rubric. The stamp was designed on the basis a great picture by Sandro Botticelli “Primavera”. It symbolized the 50th anniversary of reunion of North, Central and South America in the Pan-American Union.

Hard times of some stratums of society are reflected on the stamps designed after the Remington’s drawings. One of these (eight cent) stamps with the reproduction of “Troops Guarding Train” shows us soldiers escorting a train with emigrants across the uninhabited prairies. Another fifty cent stamp “Western Mining Prospector” presents a gold-prospector and his mules in the mountains.

As for statues on the stamps, here Greece bears the palm. The eternal statues of Hermes, Iris, Jupiter and, of course, Venus de Milo are very popular subjects for Greek stamps.

There are also a great many of stamps that depict the artists themselves. These philatelic items are created to underline the contribution in history as well as in culture made by these outstanding people.