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 Sara 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 finished in March, but it is too damp to live in. Maurits and Jetta leave it to dry all summer and spend those months at the Albergo del Toro in Ravello, the place where they met. In early October, they finally move to Rome. In mid-October, Escher’s brother Arnold dies during a mountain trip in Tirol. In December, Escher starts a series of six woodcuts about the Creation, which would become extremely 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. After Flor de Pascua and Emblemata, this is the third book that includes Escher’s illustrations. It’s also the last one. From now on, he focuses on portraying his own thoughts.
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 goes on an ocean journey along the coasts of Italy and France to Spain, where he produces an in-depth study of the mosaics of the Moors in Alhambra (Granada) and the Mezquita (Córdoba). This encourages him to further explore tessellations.
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.
In spring and summer, he creates a series of woodcuts on the city of Delft on commission for the Dutch government. On June 14, 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 works on it until March of the following year.
During World War II, Escher produces far fewer new prints. He lacks inspiration and has other things on his mind. But this does not stop him from being creative. During the war years, he throws himself into his regular drawings, in which he continuously devises new ways to fill the surface with regular patterns. Between the outbreak of WWII in 1939 and the Dutch liberation in May 1945, Escher makes around 35 new drawings.
Escher’s mother, Sarah Gleichman, dies on 27 May.
On 20 February, the family moves to the Netherlands. They rent a house on Nicolaas Beetslaan in Baarn. In September, Escher starts working on his woodcut Fish, the first work he made in Baarn. In Germany the ‘Reichskulturkammer’ is founded in 1933 and, in November 1941, the Dutch version follows. Every artist who wants to exhibit, publish or make music is required to be a member. Jews are excluded. Whoever becomes a member formally agrees with the politics of the occupier. Artists are sent a registration form and Aryan declaration, which they have to complete and return. Although there is much resistance beforehand, the majority of artists make the best of a bad situation. Escher however, refuses to register.
This year Escher creates two important lithographs: Reptiles in March and Encounter in May. In both prints, he ingeniously combines a two-dimensional tessellation with a three-dimensional image.
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.
The end of the war is liberating, both personally and artistically, for Escher. In the second half of this year, he makes Balcony, Doric Columns, Three Spheres I and a woodcut for the Tijdelijke Academie in Eindhoven. He also works on the lithograph Magic Mirror, which he completes in January 1946.
Escher explores the mezzotint technique for the first time, a technique that is new to him and fascinates him because of the possibility to obtain extremely subtle gradations of light and dark. However, the technique used to create and print the plate is very demanding and very few prints can be created before the copper plate degrades. He creates a number of these mezzotints, the last one in 1951, but stops due to the tediousness of the process. 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. These are both important works in his oeuvre, in which he combines several perspectives and viewpoints in a single image.
In January, Escher produces Drawing Hands. That summer, the VAEVO Foundation reprints his work Up and Down 400 times. The prints are distributed to schools in the Netherlands. The foundation was established in 1908 to stimulate the cultural education of young people. More reprints follow in later years.
Articles on Escher are published in three international magazines: in February in The Studio (United Kingdom), in April in Time and in May in Life (United States). The American articles give his fame a considerable boost in the United States.
In February, he creates Puddle, a colour woodcut inspired by his walks in the woods surrounding his residence in Baarn. In this print, Escher uses the trees from a woodcut he produced nearly 20 years before, namely Pineta of Calvi, Corsica (1933).
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.
This year, he creates, among others, the wood engraving and woodcut Whirlpools, a work that is not only ingenious due to the subject matter, but also involves the use of a new printing technique: each block only covers half of the image. The other half is printed by turning the block 180 degrees.
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 same year, he also creates his famous lithograph Belvedere.
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, a direct result from his contacts with the Penroses. During the International Conference of Crystallographers in Cambridge (United Kingdom), he gives a lecture and there is an exhibition with his work. From 29 August to 14 October, he embarks on a sea voyage from Genoa to Vancouver. At the end of October, he holds 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.
The print has been occupying his mind since early 1962, but the progress on Möbius Strip II (Red Ants) is very slow. It is not finished until February. Due to the huge demand for reprints of his work, he spends most of his time printing. With the exception of a small fish vignette, he does not produce any new work.
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. Square Limit is the only new work he creates this year.
1965 – 1970
Escher’s work increases in popularity among the general public. Stanley Kubrick approaches him 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. At the end of the 1960s Escher becomes popular with hippies. His prints are published in fluorescent versions on the American market.
On 5 March, Escher is awarded the cultural prize of the City of Hilversum. In August, the book Symmetry Aspects of M.C. Escher’s Periodic Drawings is published. It is written by Professor Caroline H. MacGillavry, Escher’s friend and a professor of chemical crystallography at the University of Amsterdam. An article about Escher also appears in the October issue of Jardin des Arts. Earlier this year, he befriends the author, French artist and professor Albert Flocon, who gives him the idea for his print Knots.
Scientific American publishes an extensive article on Escher in its April issue, by American science journalist, master puzzle maker and ‘mathemagician’ Martin Gardner.
On 29 April, Escher is made an Officer of the Order of Oranje-Nassau. During the winter of 1967-1968, he creates Metamorphosis III, a woodcut seven meters long that is cut from thirty-three blocks. He does this on commission for the PTT (Dutch Post), which wants to turn it into a wall painting in the main post office in The Hague.
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 famous 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 readmitted into the 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 Escher’s work is shown, commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In November Time Spirit has its premiere, a symphony by composer Jurriaan Andriessen inspired by Escher’s work.
In December De Werelden van M.C. Escher (The Worlds of M.C. Escher), by J.L. Locher (editor), is published. It carries the same title as the retrospective exhibition of 1968. The book was a huge success, both with the public and art critics. Parallel to the publication, the Gemeentemuseum (now Kunstmuseum Den Haag) organises a second major exhibition with all prints reproduced in the book. Again, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors.
Escher dies on 27 March in the Diaconessenhuis hospital in Hilversum, aged 73.
De Toverspiegel van M.C. Escher (The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher) by Bruno Ernst is published, a result of a long series of talks between Escher and the mathematician Ernst, about Escher’s work.
Leven en werk van M.C. Escher (M.C. Escher, His life and complete graphic work) by J.L. Locher (ed.), is published. It tells Escher’s life story and provides the first complete catalogue of his work.
M.C. Escher. Een biografie, the first major biography on Escher, is published by Wim Hazeu.
Opening of Escher in The Palace, the monographic museum on the life and work of M.C. Escher is opened in The Hague.