Saturday, 16 August 2014

Into the Blue Yonder with Sigyn

Sometimes a year takes on an unintentional theme and this one for me has been maritime paintings which started earlier this year with a visit to the National Maritime Museum's stunning exhibition "Turner and the Sea" and may have ended with the most recent trip to a smaller but interesting Harris Museum's current exhibition "Making Waves" so contrariwise I'm about to go on holiday nowhere near the sea. 

The ship with full sails speeding through the waves is the Sigyn built  in Göteborg (1887) and one of the last sailing barques built for worldwide trade before steam took over (Wikipedia ship history here)  Considered fast and beautiful the Sigyn is now a museum ship moored in Turku on the south west coast of Finland.

The artist is Håkan Sjöström,, born in 1937 many years after this ship first set sail but he would have lots of opportunities to study the Sigyn as he worked at a shipyard in Turku until his retirement and is considered the foremost marine painter in Scandinavia.  He has painted ships from many eras and also produced paintings for Åland Post's six year series on passenger ferries which concluded earlier this year.  Appropriately one of the last stamps included a ship built  by a Turku shipbuilder, the STX-shipyard (FDC here).  Not as romantic as a sailing ship but to arrive by sea is always a wonderful way to arrive in a place or country.  


Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Deep

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)  is the world's oldest scientific intergovernmental organisation and its objective is the sustainable use of the oceans and increase of scientific knowledge. Founded in 1902 to study and advise on marine science in the Atlantic, Baltic and North Sea, it now includes the Arctic in its remit. Three countries of the founding members of ICES commemorated its 100 years by jointly issuing the same miniature sheet but each taking two different sections to make the whole scene.
The Faroe Islands two stamps appear in the middle of the miniature sheet.  On the left -  Blue Whiting (a member of the cod family) who swim near the surface at night and migrate to the bottom during the day.  The stamp on the right features Atlantic Cod and a marine research ship named after Magnus Heinason, a 16th Century Faroese naval hero and privateer.  The ship's home port is Torshavn and at the moment it is at sea just to the north of the Faroe Islands.  
  The Greenland section of the sheet on the left  show a Greenland Shark and Deepwater Redfish.  On the right is where Denmark's two stamps would appear and show Atlantic Cod with the rays of the Hirtshals lighthouse and the marine research ship Dana whose home port is the town of Hirtshals on the Jutland peninsula. Curious to know where it is at the moment?  Looking on the Marine Traffic site it seems to be slap bang in the middle of the North Sea in-between North East England and Denmark.

ICES requests countries to reduce or stop fish catches for certain species based on its research and statistics, whether they do so is another matter.  Spain issued a "Marine Species in Danger of Extinction" in 2013 featuring species on the edge

Top left - Basque Whale who live in shallow coastal waters and in the summer move to the colder water of the North Atlantic.
Top right - Bluefin Tuna, native to the Atlantic and Mediterranean and whose numbers have been decimated by overfishing
Bottom left - Monk Seal, lives in the Mediterranean and at great risk of extinction. The world would be a poorer place without the chance of seeing a seal. 
Bottom right - Sea Lamprey - an anadromous species like the salmon which spawns in rivers and migrates to the sea.  It did freak me out as a child when I saw a picture of its suction cup mouth and the result of it attaching to skin and rasping away at tissue with its sharp tongue and teeth.  I have since seen one in reality coiling out of a rock but happily there was a sheet of glass between us and it looked rather languid. 

I will finish with the more curious sea creatures on Albania's 1968 Marine Fauna series
 the Squid, Lobster and Northern Whelk
Spiny Lobster and Green Crab

An entry to Viridian Postcard's Sunday Stamps theme of - Undersea Life here

Sunday, 3 August 2014


1969 Paintings in the National Gallery, Budapest ('"Black Pigs")

Gauguin famously travelled to faraway places but it was the journey to French Polynesia that changed his art.  This scene shows a Tahiti village and its harmony with the natural world and is the point at which his painting started to change, stimulated by the islands exotic culture.  The palm fringed and sandy beaches of the islands of Tahiti are the sort of places I might dream about in the middle of winter and palm trees make an appearance on
one of the China definitives of the 1980s featuring the scenery of China.  These are the palm trees of Hainan, a tropical island in the South China Sea which has no winter although in January and February the cold winter air from the north comes into contact with the warm sea causing continual fog and creating extreme moisture in the air. The island is a popular tourist destination and one of its big events is the Coconut Festival in late March and early April and for the local Li people March is also the time associated with love when traditionally weddings takes place,
I have shown a couple of my Chinese prepaid postcard of 'Landscapes of Guilin' before and this week's Sunday Stamps theme gives me an excuse to show another one.
Nine Horse Fresco Hill

 Here we are cruising down the Li River and passing by the cliff face of Nine Horse Hill.  How many horses can you count?  The legend is that the Monkey King brought his horses to the Li River and an artist wished to paint them but the horses were spooked and galloped into the cliff face and still can be seen in various poses today.

An entry to Viridian Postcard's Sunday Stamps theme of - Faraway Places

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Painting the World

2002: Birth Centenary Albert Namatjira
The 1920s were a period of severe drought in central Australia and to raise money to help the local population the area mission established a craft industry where aborigines made boomerangs with burnt pokerwork designs and wooden plaques decorated with plants, animals and the landscape of Central Australia.  Albert Namatjira was one of these and would received his first commission at this time which was for five wooden plaques.  He continued to work in these mediums but the need to earn money to support his family meant that he also worked on cattle stations.  In the winter of 1934 the watercolourist Rex Batterbee and fellow artist John Gardner put on an exhibition of their paintings of the MacDonnell Ranges at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission where Albert Namatjira saw and studied them, showing such interest that the Pastor at the mission gave him a set of watercolour paints.  In the winter of 1936 Batterbee returned to the area and Namatjira acted as his guide to the scenic areas of the tribal lands of Western Aranda offering his services as "camel boy in return for painting lessons".  Batterbee was amazed at his rapid progress and understanding of a medium that would take some people many years to learn.
He would go on to produce about 2000 paintings which he would always paint plein air on his many walkabouts with his family but only in the winter or dry season due to the famously severe Australian sun in the summer.  The ochre tones not only represent the landscape in western artist style but also are influenced by Aboriginal tradition. These were not easy times for the indigenous population as the aboriginal people lived under restrictive legislation that made them wards of state and were not given Australian citizenship until 1968 (Namatjira died in 1959) but Namatjira would become the first named Australian aborigine to have his portrait appear on a postage stamp.  The Hermannsburg School of Artists website shows how Albert was the first of many indigenous artists who would portray their love of the landscape in this way here.

Someone else who was always travelling (but in Europe) and painted landscape watercolours was Edward Lear but he is probably better know for his illustrations and verse
1988: Death Centenary of Edward Lear
The 20th of a family of 21 children and rejected by this mother he was brought up by his sister Ann. Due to illness he did not go to school and started to earn his living as a painter in the yards of coaching inns. By the time he was 16 he was working as an ornithological draughtsman and it was while working at the Zoological Gardens in London that he was introduced to the Earl of Derby who at the time was looking for an artist to make drawings of his extensive menagerie at his family home. It was during his six years at Knowsley that he wrote the first of his limericks which were for the children of the household and illustrated with the birds and animals he knew so well. The damp climate of north west England made his asthma and bronchitis worse so with Lord Derby's help he went to live in Rome and would spend most of the rest of his life abroad traveling, painting and drawing.  Lear depended upon letters to keep him in touch with family and friends and the 27p stamp above shows one of his signatures portraying himself as a bird.  The 32p stamp below is from an alphabet book. For a small taste of his whimsy and other works see this blog post here
An entry to Viridian Postcard's Sunday Stamps theme of - Artists and Illustrators here

Sunday, 13 July 2014


2010: Shangrila
When the China Daily newspaper published its list of "Top 10 Fairylands in Yunnan Province" saying that Yunnan has some of the most magical and diverse scenery in all of China, the Meri Snow Mountains came in at Number 8.   The view shown on the Commemorative Sheet is possibly the most famous with the peaks bathed in the golden light of sunrise. Also known as the Prince of Snow Mountain or the 13 Prince Peaks by the locals, these are the highest (over 6,000 metres) of the mountains in the range. Lying on the boundary between Yunnan and Tibet they are also a place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists. The China Daily describes the area thus
"The crystal glacier extreme from the peak all the way to the forest area an altitude of 2700 metres which forms the most spectacular low latitude monsoonal oceanic glacier in the world. A streak of scarlet light pierced the dark clouds, revealing over 50 steep snowcapped summits, shining, dazzling and thrusting into the clouds like golden swords"
2004: "Frontier Scenes of China"

   Covering a land area of 9.6 million square kilometre stretching from the Pamirs in Central Asia to the western part of the Pacific, temperate zones and tropical, what a diversity of scenery is China. This sheet's theme is areas on the frontiers of China but slap bang in the middle is The Gate of Heavenly Peace, the south entrance to the Forbidden City which although tourists throng the area today in past times it was indeed a forbidden frontier for the majority of the population.  The stamps show (and the Chinese always helpfully number their stamps), going clockwise from the top right
12.1 - Forest of Xing'an Mountain
12.2 - Lake in the Yalu River Basin
12.3 - Reefs in the Yellow Sea
12.4 - Zhoushan Archipelago
12.5 - The coastline of Taiwan
12.6 - Xisha Islands
12.7 - Karst Landscape in Southern Yunnan
12.8 - Rain Forest in Southern Yunnan
12.9 - Mount Qomolangma
12.10 - The Pamirs
12.11 - The Badain Jaran Desert
12.12 - Hulun Buir Steppe

An entry to Viridian Postcard's Sunday Stamps theme of - "Beautiful Landscapes" here

Friday, 11 July 2014

Eco Museum

I love an old fashioned (in the best possible way) museum that is just full of 'stuff' and the Ecomusee de Lizio in Brittany fits the bill perfectly. The founder, Alain Guillard, saw old objects and tools disappearing and being lost forever and started to collect and restore them; this treasure trove of 100,000 tools and objects is the result. Breton house interiors, workshops and schools are lovingly displayed, this postcard shows a selection on the theme of transport. Bottom right are toys of the Tour de France being held up at a railway crossing whereas the old Citroen, top left, I always think of as the 'Maigret' car.  Looks like we are all off on holiday, top right, and hopefully will not need the services of the breakdown truck (bottom left).

A short Q and A with Alain Guillard and directions to the Eco-museum of old trades and occupations here     

Friday, 4 July 2014


Heading to Yorkshire to see the Tour de France so what is more appropriate than a picture of a postie on his steed spotted last time I was in York in 2013, coincidently also in the month of July.  By chance I also discovered on last year's trip the York Central Delivery Office which is on Leeman Road down by the side of the River Ouse and took photographs of the extensive bike stores but alas the sun's direction and the security railings conspired against me as can be seen