On 17 June 1898, Maurits Cornelis Escher is born in Leeuwarden. He’s the third son from the second marriage of George Arnold Escher, to Sarah Gleichman. Escher’s father already had two sons from a previous marriage.
Father Escher is appointed chief engineer and director of Rijkswaterstaat in Arnhem and the family moves to this city.
Maurits has a pleasant childhood, despite suffering from various diseases. At the age of 7, he is admitted to a youth rehabilitation centre in Zandvoort for a longer period in order to recuperate.
Escher attends secondary school in Arnhem. He is left-handed and very intelligent, but an outsider. He is not a happy student and ends up failing his final exams.
Escher receives his first camera, marking the beginning of photography as an important hobby. During his life, he will repeatedly capture important events, including as an inspiration for his work.
Escher creates his first graphic work, a linoleum cut of his father, G.A. Escher.
The family moves to Oosterbeek. In January, he produces his first etching: Railway bridge across the Rhine at Oosterbeek.
Escher studies architecture at the ‘Hogere Technische School’ in Delft. He doesn’t like it there and he doesn’t pass his exams, partly due to illness.
1919 – 1922
Escher attends the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem. He starts by studying architecture, but switches to graphic art, encouraged by his teacher, S. Jessurun de Mesquita.
Escher creates his first woodcuts. Big blocks are too expensive, so he starts with smaller works.
Escher makes a holiday trip along the French Riviera and through northern Italy in the spring. It’s the start of a life-long love of this country. In November, Flor de Pascua, the first book to contain illustrations by Escher, is published. The woodcuts already reveal themes which would become very important to Escher’s work later on: nature, perspective, reflections and tessellations.
From 5 April to 12 June, Escher makes a journey through northern Italy. From 13 to 20 September, he travels by freighter to Tarragona, before making a trip through Spain, travelling on to Italy by freighter and staying in Siena from mid-November onwards. There he first encounters the mosaics of the Alhambra in Granada. This year he also produces his first tessellation: Eight Heads.
From 14 March onwards, Escher stays in Ravello. On 31 March, he meets Jetta Umiker and her family in the guesthouse where he is staying. Escher and Jetta fall in love soon afterwards. Between 13 and 26 August, Escher has his first solo exhibition in Siena, and from November onwards, he is in Rome.
In February, he has his first exhibition in the Netherlands. On 12 June, Maurits and Jetta marry in Italy. In October, the couple buys their first house in Rome, but it can’t be lived in yet. The first few months of their married life are spent in a guesthouse in Frascati.
The house in Rome is not finished, so Maurits and Jetta temporarily move to Ravello. At the beginning of October, they move to Rome. In mid-October, Escher’s brother Arnold dies during a mountain trip in Tirol. In December, Escher starts on a series of six woodcuts about the Creation, which would become very popular in later years.
1926 – 1935
Escher’s fame grows. In the Netherlands in particular, he is frequently asked for exhibitions. The international art world takes an interest in his work.
From 2 to 16 May, Escher has a popular exhibition in Rome. In June, the couple buys a second home in Rome, which is also not immediately livable. On 23 July, their first son is born: George Escher. This year, Escher sells his first works (9) for a total of NLG 330.
1927 – 1935
Almost every year, usually in the spring, Escher makes a mountain trip through desolate regions. During these trips, he makes sketches he will use later on for his work. He also takes a lot of photos and keeps a travel diary.
In the spring, the family moves to the second home in Rome. Escher has his own studio for the first time.
In February, he produces Tower of Babel. On 8 December, their second son is born: Arthur Eduard Escher.
Escher experiments with a new technique: cutting away ink on parchment paper. Due to these experiments, his interest in lithography grows. In July he creates his first Italian print as a lithograph: Goriano Sicoli, Abruzzi. He prepares the lithograph block himself, but outsources the printing.
Publication of the article M.C. Escher – grafisch kunstenaar (M.C. Escher – graphic artist), in “Elsevier’s Geïllustreerd Maandschrift”. In it, the renowned art historian G.J. Hoogewerff expresses his appreciation for Escher’s work. In the autumn, Escher creates his first wood engraving.
In the summer the book XXIV Emblemata dat zijn zinne-beelden, with woodcuts by Escher, is published. Art historian G.J. Hoogewerff encouraged Escher to produce emblemata a year before, like the Old Masters did.
In the autumn, the book De vreeselijke avonturen van Scholastica (The Terrible Adventures of Scholastica) is published, also containing woodcuts by Escher.
In the spring, Escher works on a series called Nocturnal Rome. In his sketches, he experiments with cross-hatching techniques to achieve light-dark effects and then turns his sketches into woodcuts. His lithograph Nonza, Corsica is awarded third prize at an exhibition in Chicago. From 12 to 22 December, he has an exhibition at the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome.
In January, Escher produces his famous selfportrait Hand with Reflecting Sphere. Concerned about their children’s health and the rise of fascism in Italy, the Eschers decide to move from Italy to Switzerland on 4 July.
Between 27 April and 25 June, Escher makes a sea trip along the coasts of Italy and France to Spain, where he produces an in-depth study of the Mosaics of the Moors in the Alhambra (Granada) and the Mezquita in Córdoba. It’s a turning point in his work, going from ‘landscapes’ to ‘mental imagery’.
Escher isn’t happy in Switzerland. In August, the family moves to Ukkel, near Brussels. This year, he creates his first Metamorphosis. Escher’s half brother Berend, Professor in Geology and Crystallography at the University of Leiden, sees his tessellations and provides his brother with publications in the field of crystallography. Escher is inspired by it for his tessellations, but ultimately creates his own system.
Escher creates Day and Night, a woodcut that becomes hugely popular. During his life, he will reprint it at least 650 times. On 6 March, the Eschers’ third son is born: Jan Christoffel. In June, he produces Sky and Water I. The press praises him for his new style.
14 June, his father George Arnold Escher dies. In November, Escher starts on a four-metre-long woodcut called Metamorphosis II, in which a series of tessellations create a storyline through metamorphosis. He’s working on it until March of the following year.
Escher’s mother, Sarah Gleichman, dies on 27 May.
On 20 February the family moves to the Netherlands. They rent a house on the Nicolaas Beetslaan in Baarn. In September Escher he starts on his woodcut Fish, the first work he made in Baarn.
On 31 January, Escher’s former teacher Jessurun Mesquita is taken by the German forces, never to return. His death moves Escher deeply. He makes sure that Mesquita’s graphic work and drawings are taken to the ‘Stedelijk Museum’ in Amsterdam.
Escher explores the mezzotint technique for the first time. He increasingly talks about his work in presentations. In July, he produces the woodcut Horseman.
In January he produces Other World, followed by Up and Down in July. Two important works in his oeuvre.
In January, Escher produces Drawing Hands. That summer, the VAEVO foundation (‘Vereniging tot bevordering van het Esthetische element in het Voortgezet Onderwijs’) reprints his work Up and Down 400 times. More will follow later.
Articles on Escher are published in three international magazines: in February in The Studio, in April in Time and in May in Life.
In July Escher produces Relativity, one of his most iconic works.
In September, Escher has a major exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematics. For the first time since the Second World War, Escher makes another sea journey along the Mediterranean coast. He will continue to repeat this during the summer months over the next few years. In October and November, he exhibits in the Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C. His works sells well in the US, which is helped enormously by another article in Time magazine. Because he prints all of his works himself, he doesn’t have a lot of time to produce new work. In an effort to create time, he ups his prices. It doesn’t help; the work keeps on selling.
The Eschers move to a new house in Baarn. 1955 is a particularly productive year in which he produces five new prints, including Three Worlds. On 30 April, Escher is knighted.
In May he produces Print Gallery. This summer he starts his correspondence with Bruno Ernst, the math teacher who would publish a book about their relationship twenty years later.
In February, the article Impossible Objects: A Special Type of Visual Illusion, by Lionel and Roger Penrose, is published in the British Journal of Psychology. Inspired by Escher, they make and analyse visual illusions. The following year, Escher reads it and a meeting of minds transpires, about visual illusions. At ‘Stichting De Roos’ Eschers book ‘Regelmatige vlakverdeling (The Regular Division of the Plane) is published. This year, he also creates his famous lithograph Belvédère.
In November, the book Grafiek en tekeningen M.C. Escher (The Graphic work of M.C. Escher) is published. His exhibition at Boijmans van Beuningen opens on 14 November. He also creates the second and the third in his series of circle limits.
1960 – 1971
Escher’s popularity and the number of foreign clients rise exponentially. His earnings increase from NLG 26,255 to NLG 507,816 per annum.
In March, Escher produces Ascending and Descending. In August, he has an exhibition and gives a lecture during the International Conference of Crystallographers in Cambridge (United Kingdom). From 29 August to 14 October, he embarks on a sea voyage from Genua to Vancouver. At the end of October, he has a lecture at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts (United States).
On 29 July, the article How to read a painting by E.H. Gombrich is published in The Saturday Evening Post. In it, Gombrich describes Escher’s prints in detail. This article creates a lot of additional buzz around Escher’s work. This year he also creates his famous lithograph Waterfall.
Escher designs a tessellation for a pillar in the new ‘Provinciale Waterstaat’ building in Haarlem. It is officially unveiled on 27 March. But his health deteriorates. At the end of April, he’s hospitalised for an emergency operation, followed by a long period of recovery. He’s forced to cancel his trip to the USA and Canada, along with all of his planned lectures and exhibitions.
On 1 October, Escher flies to Canada, where he falls ill again and has to undergo another emergency operation in Toronto. His rescheduled lectures and exhibitions in Canada have to be cancelled.
1965 – 1970
Escher’s work increases in popularity among the general public. Stanley Kubrick approaches him to think about a four-dimensional film. Mick Jagger asks him whether one of his works can be used for an album cover by the Rolling Stones. Both are declined.
Scientific American publishes an extensive article on Escher in its April issue, by American science journalist, master puzzle maker and ‘mathemagician’ Martin Gardner.
On 30 April, he is made an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau
The first major exhibition of Escher’s work appears in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague in honour of his 70th birthday. On April 20, Dutch weekly magazine Vrij Nederland publishes a long interview with M.C. Escher by the legendary journalist Bibeb. Escher and his wife Jetta live separately from the end of this year. Jetta leaves for Switserland to live with their son Jan.
On 20 February, the large wall painting Metamorphose III (48 by 1.60 meters) is unveiled at the main post office in The Hague. In July, he creates his last woodcut: Snakes.
In the spring, Escher is re-admitted to hospital for another major operation. In August, he moves to the Rosa Spier House in Laren. At the world exhibition in Osaka, a film about Eschers work is shown, commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.