I’m the editor and ‘all things digital’ guy at Escher in The Palace. I’m responsible for the website (technically and for all the content), social media, the newsletter, our audio guides and other digital opportunities at The Palace.
More information about me and my love for film can be found on www.erikkersten.nl (in Dutch).
A remarkable self-portrait by Rembrandt will be on display at our museum from 29 November until 29 January. It is a self-portrait with a stormy history, disappearing off the radar for many years and now returning to the place where it hung for a long time in the nineteenth century. This painting can be seen in the royal ballroom of the palace, amid M.C. Escher's prints. Despite the obvious link between this self-portrait by Rembrandt and Lange Voorhout Palace, there also appear to be undeniable connections between Rembrandt and Escher.
In general, mirrors reflect reality, but in the world of art, different laws apply. Certainly in the world of Maurits Cornelis Escher. Here, nothing is what it seems. His prints are instantly recognisable, but the man behind them was something of an enigma. He looks at you in mirror prints such as Hand with Reflecting Sphere or Three Spheres II. Confident, empathic. But also composed and perhaps even a little mocking.
It was a fact of life for Escher that his health deteriorated during the late 1960s. He struggled with it his entire life, but this particular decade was a succession of good and bad spells. During the good spells, he was alert and active; during the bad ones, poor health dominated his life. In the spring of 1969 he had a good spell again and he filled his time with a number of lectures, produced 40 prints of Day and Night (although he thought that this was a waste of his precious time) and devised and created a new print.
It was working on something new that made him especially happy. In a letter to his son George, he wrote that he was 'wild with excitement' about Snakes. In the winter of 1967/1968, he had extended his Metamorphosis II to Metamorphosis III, but the last new print preceding it originated from autumn 1966. He therefore devoted himself wholeheartedly to this new stream of creativity, despite being afflicted by poor health. The development process took a great deal of energy, and he often had to stop work in order to take a break.
In December 1958 and January 1959, Escher worked on a new print that he intended to display at an exhibition in Museum Boymans in February. Adopting the group name Vier Grafici (‘Four Graphic Artists’), he was exhibiting with Harry van Kruiningen, Wout van Heusden and Harry Disberg. A company he had been in before. He wrote about the print in a letter to his son George and his wife Corrie:
"After a week of endless dispiration, I again find myself exploring tetrahedral and octahedral space: caves and caverns, wondrous pillars, abysses and vistas, all rigorously four-sided and eight-sided. My plan now is to finally have the cross-eyed flatworm I love swim in it."
2021 has come to an end and it has been another special and unforgettable year. We look back on all the wonderful things we have been able to organise this year. No fewer than four temporary exhibitions have been held in the museum, in addition to the permanent presentation of Escher's art!
All of the wonderful images about our exhibitions, activities and the in-depth articles on our website can be seen in this special end-of-year animation. We thank everyone for their attention and support over the past year and hope to inspire you again in 2022 with our stories and artworks!
In November 1929, Escher produced a print that for once was not the direct result of a journey he had made that spring. From 1925 to 1936, he followed a fixed pattern of travelling through Italy in the spring, to the Abruzzi, Sicily, Calabria or the Amalfi Coast. In the first few years, places around his home town of Rome or in the nearby province of Viterbo were added. He also travelled to Corsica and Spain. In the autumn and winter following these trips, he fleshed out his sketches and photos into prints. But in May 1926, things were different.
On 2 July 1965, journalist, poet, critic and essayist G.H. 's-Gravesande, known by his nickname Hein, died. Although Escher and Hein had been friends for over 30 years, the artist did not attend the cremation. He was engrossed in working on the print Knots, a subject in which he had become completely absorbed. This would hardly have surprised 's-Gravesande. He published several articles and a booklet on the man whom he also greatly admired as an artist. Hein 's-Gravesande was one of the first critics to pay serious attention to the work of M.C. Escher, and the graphic artist owes much to him.
The term homo universalis, meaning universal man, aka polymath, was coined in the Renaissance by the writer, philosopher and musician Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472). Leonardo da Vinci is often seen as the quintessential polymath. In his case, this referred to his mastery of the complete spectrum of sciences. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-332 BC) is considered to be the first homo universalis. The term is at times applied incorrectly, but Richard Roland Holst (1868-1938) definitely qualifies. In the database of the RKD, the Netherlands Institute for Art History, he is described as an author, sculptor, scene-painter, Academy director, etcher, glass painter, professor, illustrator, lithographer, furniture designer, designer, painter, draftsman, maker of woodcuts and muralist. A universal man of the arts, in other words.
Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita was a gifted artist, painter and printmaker with an idiosyncratic signature who occupies a special place in the canon of art. But above all he is the discoverer of M.C. Escher, the man who made the architecture student choose the profession that would make him world-famous. The sorcerer's apprentice was to outshine his discoverer and things slowly grew quieter around De Mesquita. On 31 January 1944 he was arrested by the Nazis. He died shortly afterwards in Auschwitz concentration camp. Escher was devastated and the death of his teacher made a deep impression on him. Nowadays the name of Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita is often directly linked to that of Escher, but there is still plenty to say about the teacher.
With Belvedere, Waterfall and Ascending and Descending, M.C. Escher created three iconic prints based on impossible figures: a cube, a triangle and a staircase. He invented the one for Belvedere himself, but the impossible triangle and the infinite staircase were presented to him by the British mathematicians Lionel and Roger Penrose. These figures were just thought experiments for Penrose Senior and Penrose Junior. But there was someone who had been obsessed with them all his life: Oscar Reutersvärd. This Swedish artist and art historian, who can be regarded as the archetypal father of the impossible figure, passed away on 2 February 2002.
Between March and June 1931, Escher created his Emblemata, a series of small woodcuts that were accompanied by a motto in Latin and a poem in Dutch. The mottoes and poems were written by art historian G.J. Hoogewerff, director of the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome and a friend to Escher. One of those prints is Retreat. It features a birdhouse, hanging from a tree.
2020 has passed. A year no one will ever forget. But even in this crazy year, we brought you many stories about the life and work of M.C. Escher. All the images we used are collected in this video.
We thank everyone for your attention this year and onwards to a hopeful 2021!
Contacts had been established earlier that year, but in December 1957 it was officially ratified: by order of Utrecht City Council, Escher was allowed to make a mural for the auditorium of the reception building of Tolsteeg cemetery. In the autumn, he was approached by the municipal council to make a design. The reception building had very recently been renovated and the municipal authorities thought there was room for some aesthetic improvement too. The advisory committee for Visual Arts and Applied Sciences decided to delegate the task to the graphic artist M.C. Escher. He welcomed the assignment and set straight to work.
On his journeys through untouched parts of Italy in the spring and summer, enjoying himself was not Escher’s only aim. These hikes were also very much geared towards preparing for prints that they might inspire. During his travels, he took numerous photos which he pasted into a photo album, adding a note about them in his diary. They are memories of a beautiful journey, but in many of those photos, you can also recognise the landscapes that would go on to feature in his work. In the spring of 1930, Escher made a journey through the region of Calabria that proved very fertile. The tour took in such as Palizzi, Morano, Pentedatillo, Stilo, Scilla, Tropea, Santa Severina, Rocca Imperiale, and Rossano and yielded no less than 13 prints.
9 November 1778 saw the death of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the Italian artist and architect regarded as the greatest graphic artist of his time. His fame was primarily due to his Vedute di Roma, a series of etchings with impressive views of the ruins and monuments of Rome. But above all it is Piranesi's famous fantasy prints about prisons, the Carceri d'Invenzione, that continue to appeal to the imagination so much to this day. Escher was a great admirer. When he moved to the Swiss town of Château-d'Oex in 1935, he hung a number of prints by Piranesi in his studio. As if he wanted to keep the memory of his old home town alive. The main thing these two artists have in common is their staggering imagination.
Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt was born on 23 October 1915. He was a man with many hobbies, though his greatest love was the work of M.C. Escher. From the moment he set eyes on some Escher prints in 1954 he was captivated and would go on to become an obsessive collector of everything that had anything to do with the graphic artist: prints, reproductions, letters, books, newspaper articles, and all kinds of Escher products. But the two also became personal friends, and Roosevelt became a confidant that Escher would often rely on.
In October 1958, Escher created one of his most beautiful but also most complex objects. He did extensive research for Sphere Spirals, searching for a solution to show the open ribbons that form this sphere in a three-dimensional form.
M.C. Escher created illustrations for texts by other people in 1921, 1931 and 1932. But after Flor de Pascua, XXIV Emblemata and De vreeselijke avonturen van Scholastica (The Terrible Adventures of Scholastica) respectively, he was done with it. He no longer wanted to be associated with the book illustration profession. When the bibliophilic De Roos Foundation asks him in 1956 to illustrate a story by Belcampo, he refuses on principle. In his letter to the secretary of the De Roos Foundation, C.J. (Karel) Asselbergs, he says that he is not an illustrator by nature and that he considered illustrating a pure waste of time. He sees it as his duty to visualise his own personal thoughts. He proposes to make a book for De Roos himself, containing ‘word illustrations’ for his own prints.
Up early this morning to join the three Germans, the Stern family, on a trip to Giarre by train to see the same lava flow (from 1928) that I already saw and drew three years ago. There, I find a particularly typical subject: a house with a beautiful palm behind it, spared from the heavy lava destruction and completely surrounded by black lava.
Escher wrote this in his travel diary on 4 May 1936, detailing his voyage on and around the Mediterranean. The house — the subject of a drawing and (in August) of a lithograph — had (almost) fallen prey to a powerful opponent: Mount Etna.
One of the most wondrous prints by M.C. Escher is (Two) Doric Columns, a wood engraving in three colours that he created in August 1945, just after the liberation. After Balcony, it was the second new print that Escher produced following the euphoric days in May that year.
On July 29, 1961, the article How to read a painting (Adventures of the mind) by art historian Ernst Gombrich appears in the famous American magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Gombrich describes a number of Escher's prints in detail. The sub-heading reads: "By visual paradoxes the artist shocks the viewer into the realization that there is more to art than meets the eye." A phrase that can clearly be related to Escher. The article generated a lot of extra interest in Escher's work.
In the spring of 1931, Escher and his wife travelled together along the Amalfi coast, an area of which they both had fond memories, not least because they met there in 1923. They visited places like Vietri, Puntone, Scala, Positano, Praiano and of course Ravello. Here stood the Albergo dell Toro, the hotel where Maurits and Jetta first set eyes on one another. The town has special significance for them and is given prominence in Escher’s work too. He was particularly affected by the Moorish motifs he found in the town, including the ones in the Duomo. He did several drawings and took several photos in Ravello and the town can also be seen in a series of prints that he produced in the early 1930s. One is San Giovanni, Ravello (in Campidoglio), Ravello. A wood engraving from February 1932.
M.C. Escher experimented in various prints with transforming and converging shapes. Early examples of this are Development I (1937) and Development II (1939), Day and Night (1938), Sky and Water I (1938) and II (1938), Verbum (1942) and Metamorphosis I and II (1937 and 1939-1940). In these prints, objects and animals change from one recognisable form to another (transform) or they merge into an end form or end point (converge). He often managed to combine these two principles in a single print, for example in the wood engraving Butterflies from June 1950.
To many, Escher’s impossible buildings are the highlights of his oeuvre. These are the prints that visitors look for when they come to our museum. They stand in front of them and discuss with their family and friends what they see happening before their eyes. In that respect they really are conversation pieces. If you take ‘impossible’ in a broad sense, Up and Down, House of Stairs, Relativity, Convex and Concave, Print Gallery, Belvedere, Ascending and Descending and Waterfall can be defined as impossible buildings. But it is the last three of these that Escher himself referred to as such and which are also the ones most open to interpretation. ‘Look, see that? That’s impossible, right?’
‘I used to love Grimms’ fairy tales a lot. As a child, even as a boy, I was very moved by them. Now I’m rereading The Hobbit, by Tolkien, the journey of those dwarfs. It’s so far removed from reality. Why (gaze stripped of all playfulness) do we have to endure this miserable reality all the time? Why can’t we just play?’
Escher said this in the long interview with journalist Bibeb, printed in weekly magazine Vrij Nederland on 20 April 1968. He was known to many as a serious and straightforward artist, but this quote once again makes things less clear-cut.
French philosopher, journalist, writer and Nobel laureate Albert Camus wrote his novel The Plague in 1947. The book was a direct response to the horrors of World War II. The disease itself and its defeat are a metaphor for the fight against the Nazis, the brown plague. In the current corona crisis, war is a distant concept for most of the affected countries, but other than that the parallels between the book and the bizarre reality of 2020 are striking. Escher attentively read The Plague and other works by Camus. And it is back in the spotlight now.
During the war, Escher had other things to worry about but, after the liberation in May 1945, he released the brakes on his productivity and creativity. But the start was a difficult one. He had to get used to freedom and initially limited himself to reprinting old prints and selling them. The first creative result was the lithograph Balcony, created in July 1945.
Spring is here. It cannot be stopped by the world's problems. That is why we show you this print. A small wood engraving of 44 x 99 mm, but large in visual richness. This woodcut of a tree with birds and a squirrel is special, because it mirrors the whole image. Because of that reflection, and Escher's play with shape and residual shape and the black and white contrast, the end result is both realistic and abstract. An ode to nature in these dark times.
The Piano di Sant'Andrea is an historic site of ancient Genoa situated on top of a hill of the same name. The Piano is surrounded by the towers of the Porta Soprana. In the Middle Ages, this was the most important gateway to the city. At the foot of the towers lies the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Escher visited Genoa and the Piano di Sant'Andrea in the spring of 1936, when he (partly together with his wife Jetta) made a voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, a journey that brought him considerable pleasure, but also much inspiration. He made photos and drawings that he then developed in wood or on stone in the autumn and winter of 1936/1937. This included woodcuts featuring Venice, Ancona, the tower of Pisa and the cargo ship on which they travelled, wood engravings on Catania and Marseille and a lithograph of Nunziata on Sicily. The journey was also a source of inspiration for one of his first optical illusions: Still life and street. In February 1937 he made this woodcut of the Piano di Sant'Andrea.
The Gianicolo (or Janiculum) towers above the city of Rome directly above the Trastevere district on the west side of the Tiber River. This hill offers fantastic views of the city and is a favourite destination for locals. That must have been the case for Escher as well, especially the park around the Villa Doria Pamphili. Here, in the largest public park in Rome, he was able to escape the noise and chaos of the city. It was less than a 30-minute walk from his home on Via Alessandro Poerio. He took pictures here and incorporated the view into his prints. One of them is St Peter's [seen] from the Gianicolo [Rome], from February 1935.
Development I and Development II are both prints in which Escher attempts to find a satisfactory way to express the concept of ‘infinity’. They show development, but are also part of a development. In October 1937, he showed his collection of tessellations to his brother Beer (Berend), a professor of geology, mineralogy, palaeontology and crystallography at Leiden University. Escher's collection consisted partly of copies of tessellations he had traced in the Alhambra (Granada) and La Mezquita (Cordoba) in the spring of 1936 and partly of ones he had drawn himself. He first started making tessellations some ten years earlier. In his early attempts, he carved an animal shape directly into the woodblock, after which he duplicated it on paper or fabric either mirrored or rotated.
In early February 1935 Maurits and Jetta went to Abruzzo with the Mr and Mrs Leopold, a couple they had befriended. They travelled by bus from Rome to the medieval capital of the region: Aquila. It was not that far, about 75 miles. They then travelled on to Campo Imperatore, a plateau in the Gran Sasso National Park. This, the highest mountain range of the Apennines, is one of the oldest ski areas in Italy: skiing started here in the 1920s. Escher had been planning to move to Switzerland with his family for some time, because of the rise of fascism in Italy and also because his sons’ health would benefit from the Swiss mountain air. This visit to the ski area can be seen as a taster.
The universe of M.C. Escher is governed by harmony, tranquillity, order and peace. Disharmony, unrest, disorder and war are far away. Or serve as a background for the beauty in the foreground. Consider in this regard prints like Contrast (Order and Chaos) and Crystal. Escher sees the world as an everlasting struggle between these extremes. As an artist he had the task of showing the world that order is self-evident, although it sometimes seems remote.
The Escher archive at the Kunstmuseum The Hague (formerly Gemeentemuseum) contains a small storybook from 1898, Escher’s birth year. He read from it to his sons a lot. Given the publication date, one might well imagine that his father had done the same for him. The storybook features a story that served as the inspiration for a woodcut from January 1928: Castle in the Air.
When the Escher family lived in the Swiss town Château-d'Oex, Escher befriended the painter John Paschoud. On the 6th of January 1937 they opened a collective exposition of their work in the latter's studio. In the exposition, Escher shows thirty-eight of his woodcuts and lithographs. Escher made a poster, an invitation, and an announcement card. He uses the brushes and palette of the painter and the woodblock and ink roller of the graphic artist as visual elements, supplemented by some very nice typography. During the exhibition, he also demonstrates how to make a woodcut, as can be read in his diary.
Around 1930, Escher was not a happy man. He struggled with his health, he was unable to sell his work, he had financial difficulties and he lacked inspiration. He even thought about completely ending his artistic career. It was the art historian G.J. Hoogewerff who drew him out of his dip. He was director of the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome and a connoisseur of the Dutch and Flemish old masters. He asked Escher to make a series of emblemata, so-called 'images with adages'. Hoogewerff was lyrical about Escher's work and noticed many qualities in his oeuvre that he also saw in the old masters. This led to a collaboration that would mean a lot to Escher's career.
50 years ago, on 5 December 1969, The Rolling Stones launched the album Let It Bleed. It is one of the most famous Stones albums, featuring classic songs like Gimme Shelter, Midnight Rambler and You Can't Always Get What You Want. The cover features a cake and a record player, but it could have been a print by Escher.
At the end of 1947, Escher produced a preliminary study and a print which typify how he sees the world: as an everlasting struggle between order and chaos. In his view, this was an observation of fact rather than a message or tribute to that world. He was fascinated by the regularity and inevitability of tight geometrical spatial figures, symbols of order in a chaotic world. Such figures initially appear simple and clear and yet are simultaneously mysterious and inscrutable. His half-brother, the geologist and crystallographer Prof. Dr Berend George Escher, shared his fascination, albeit from a professional point of view. Escher himself lacked a sound grasp of the underlying theories, but his naive fascination gave rise to some stunning work. From very small worlds (crystals) to very large (stars and planets). One of the prints embodying both brothers’ fascination is Crystal.
Maurits, Jetta and their two sons spent July and August of 1934 in the artists’ village of Saint-Idesbald. The village is home to several museums, including that of the world-famous surrealist painter Paul Delvaux. Escher had rented a house there, together with his brother Eddy and sister-in-law Irma. During that holiday, Escher and Jetta visited Ghent, Bruges and Tournai. That same holiday Escher created a woodcut of the cathedrals of Ghent and Tournai.
Between 1946 and 1951 Escher experimented several times with the mezzotint technique. He was fascinated by the extremely subtle gradiations of light and dark that can be achieved in it. Even before the war, he made the first plans for creating his own works. He wasn't proficient in this technique and he sought advice from fellow artists such as Jan Poortenaar and W.G. Hofker on how to handle it. Dusk (Rome), from May 1946, is his first mezzotint and Plane Filling I, from March 1951, his last. It stopped at a total of 8 mezzotints. Although he was a patient man, the technique turned out to be too laborious and time-consuming for Escher. The most striking print of the series is Eye.
‘The fascinating OMG moment.’ This is how, in an edition of VPRO radio show OVT (see below, Dutch only), former curator Micky Piller describes the moment in which a viewer takes a second look at Escher’s lithograph Waterfall for the second time. At first glance, we see water cascading down from a raised platform. It looks straightforward enough. But on closer inspection the viewer experiences the OMG moment, when the brain cannot make sense of what the eyes are telling it. The water is flowing upwards. Upwards?! Waterfall is the work in which Escher deceives his viewers in the most direct way.
M.C. Escher loved playing chess. The strategic board game was a pleasant form of entertainment for him. Not only was he a member of several chess clubs during his life, but he also found chess a nice way to pass the time on his many boat trips.
For commercial assignments, Escher almost always chose subjects and designs that he had tried before. Commissions were necessary evils and rarely inspired him. Not that this was a real problem. Clients chose Escher because they were familiar with his work and were keen to see certain aspects of it feature in the end product. The commission that Escher received in the summer of 1956 was a little different. In September he produced a New Year’s card for the PTT (Dutch postal service), for which he had drawn the motif in one of his notebooks with tessellations shortly before. The design, which features winged envelopes, is clearly intended for the client. For his tessellations, Escher always used living objects, such as birds, fish, insects and other critters. In that sense, the envelope was an anomaly. But by giving them wings he was nevertheless imbuing them with an animal-like quality.
September 1919 was a life-changing month for Maurits Escher. His first lessons in architecture at the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem started on 6 September and on 17 September he moved to this city. It was not until moving here that the artist in him awoke, even if architecture proved to be a false start. His decision to study architecture was mainly inspired by his father, who saw his son as a future architect.
The first Saturday of September is World Beard Day. Naturally we commemorate the occasion through M.C. Escher, a fanatic beard-wearer. One might even suggest he was a hipster well before the term was even invented. He was in his early twenties when his distinctive look started to take shape. He was a tall, skinny man with a big nose, somewhat unkempt hair and was always in a suit. And he topped this off with a pointy beard that made his appearance even more refined.
On 23 August 1996, the composer Jurriaan Andriessen, a descendant of a well-known family of artists, died. His grandfather Willem and his father Hendrik were also composers and his brother Louis still is. His sisters Caecilia (who passed away last week) and Heleen were also active in music. His uncle Mari Andriessen was a sculptor, his uncle Nico was an architect and cousin Jurriaan was a visual artist. Although he wrote a large, varied oeuvre encompassing symphonies and other orchestral works, an opera, ballet, church and chamber music as well as film music (e.g. for Dorp aan de rivier [Village by the River] and De Aanslag [The Assault] by Fons Rademakers), his highly successful younger brother Louis would always overshadow him.
Today is International Left-handers’ Day. A day on which M.C. Escher, as a left-hander, cannot go unmentioned. This event was created to draw attention to the inconveniences that left-handed people encounter. It was first held on 13 August 1976. On a Friday, which was a conscious choice.
Escher’s left-handedness was dealt with heavy-handedly at school. He was forced to write and draw right-handed. This was standard practice at the time. Although those corrections hardly had any effect, he later learnt to use his right hand just as well as his left one. Being ambidextrous brought him an advantage in his artistry.
For Escher and his sons George and Arthur, 1930 was a year of illness: the sons got pneumonia, an ear infection and whooping cough and he himself suffered from intestinal and toothache. In addition, he hardly sold anything and there were no assignments for new work.
Castrovalva (1930) and Castle in the Air (1928) were on display in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in April, as part of the group exhibition by artists’ association St. Lucas, which was celebrating its 50th jubilee. Escher was a member, but he would go on to cancel his membership some months later. In 1930 there was only one solo exhibition of his work. This took place in the Baarnsch Lyceum’s (now demolished) villa Waldheim in June.
On 20 July 1969 Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon, exactly 50 years ago. He descended the stairs, set his foot on the powdery lunar surface and said: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. The Apollo 11 mission still counts as one of the most iconic achievements of human ingenuity. A milestone commemorated in all sorts of ways.
We do not know whether M.C. Escher watched the moon landing on the night of 20 to 21 July, but it is highly likely. He has depicted the moon in his work on multiple occasions.
Like an intriguing jewel on a jet-black background, the shells from this wood engraving illuminate the immense dark space behind it. Concentric Rinds is one of Escher’s most ingenious works as well as one of his most mysterious.
Philippe Druillet, born on 28 June 1944, is known for his baroque drawings and bizarre science fiction stories. After having worked as a photographer for several years, Druillet made his debut in comics in 1966 with 'Lone Sloane, le Mystère des Abîmes', a comic book that drew inspiration from Druillet's favorite writers H.P. Lovecraft en A.E. van Vogt. Later, Druillet would design several covers for re-issues of Lovecraft's work, and a number of filmposters.
‘Imagine being without Tolkien! The lonely evenings are the most difficult for my patience. But he helps me through them with his fantastic world of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and good wizards, contrasting with the most horrible, diabolical monsters’.
This ode to the British writer and academic John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973), who became world famous for his fantasy cycle The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the posthumously published The Silmarillion, is found in a letter dated 29 June 1962 that Escher wrote to his son George. His son Arthur had treated him to a copy of The Hobbit earlier that year, a book Escher read voraciously whilst bedridden, when reading became a useful means of escape.
In June 1932, Escher was commissioned by the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome. The institute wanted to devote attention to a church whose visibility was threatened by the emerging new building sites in the capital. In the lithograph that Escher produced of this San Michele dei Frisoni (the Frisian Church), he allows himself a considerable degree of artistic licence. He does not depict the current version of the church (built in 1141) but instead the original version, which was destroyed by the Normans in 1084 during the Investiture Controversy. This controversy is known as the conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and the then pope Gregory VII.
Escher was a walker and an observer. Fortunately, these two pursuits go hand in hand. In his Italian years, Escher went on a long hike every spring through areas such as the Abruzzo and Calabria, which were still quite inhospitable. While doing so, he looked around in awe and contemplated the beautiful nature and idiosyncratic landscape that he found there. As an observer he had an eye for the micro as well as the macro. He could look at a plant or an insect with just as much admiration as a mountain or a coastline. After he moved to Baarn in 1941, he continued to be a fanatical walker and observer, spending many hours wandering through the woods around his home and paying just as much attention to the typically Dutch nature as to Italian nature.
In May 1971, Escher produced his final tessellation, a drawing in India ink and watercolour of a figure that he himself called a ‘little ghost’. It was the last in a long series of tessellations produced in notebooks, but it was also a remarkable drawing in another respect. In 1962 the British mathematician Roger Penrose travelled to the Netherlands and he visited Escher in his house in Baarn. The two had got to know each other after Penrose saw work by Escher during the International Mathematical Congress in 1954. They started an exchange of letters that would lead to the print Ascending and Descending in 1960. Throughout his career Penrose was fascinated by tessellations, a fascination that he shared with Escher. Penrose received a print from Escher and in return he gave his host a wooden puzzle.
From 5 to 31 May 1955 the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam hosted an exhibition under the name Kunstenaars herdenken 5 mei (‘Artists Commemorate 5 May’). This coincided with the first national commemoration: 5 May 1955 was the first time that Liberation Day was celebrated as a public holiday in the Netherlands. The exhibition was an initiative of the eponymous foundation, which was founded on 1 April of that year. Escher was represented by such works as Other World and Rippled Surface.
On 28 April 1955, Escher was working in corduroy trousers and shirt sleeves in his studio when he was visited by an alderman and the municipal secretary of the city of Baarn. What he was working on at that precise moment is not clear. It could be reprints of existing prints, e.g. his four-metre-long Metamorphosis II, which was in high demand. Or his lithograph Liberation, which he had been commissioned to produce for the 10th Liberation Day on 5 May of that year. The alderman and the secretary told him that the queen intended to appoint him as a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
It is Easter tomorrow. A great moment to reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, you might say. But we will not be doing that. Easter is a Christian festival, but it also has a long secular tradition. This is reflected in Easter fires, Easter processions, Easter eggs and, of course, the appearance of the Easter bunny: the non-religious personification of the Christian festival. Just as Santa Claus is for Christmas. As a non-believer, Escher was not particularly concerned with the tradition of the festival, but he did depict a hare and two rabbits in his work. Clearly not intended to be Easter bunnies, but in this case they will be used as such.
In April 1952, 400 prints were made of the lithograph Contrast (Order and Chaos). By machine, due to the enormous circulation, but under the watchful eye of Escher. It was a commission from the VAEVO (Association for the Promotion of the Aesthetic Element in Secondary Education), which would be distributing the prints to schools in the Netherlands. This would render his work accessible to young people.
Escher went on an archaeological expedition, stretching from 3 to 13 April 1932, towards the Gargano peninsula. The expedition was led by Italian professor Ugo Rellini. Rellini was one of the first archaeologists to investigate this mountainous area. The peninsula stretches over 70 kilometers into the Adriatic Sea and is also known as the 'Spur of the boot'. The area was declared a National Park in 1995. The Garganic coast is known to be one of the wildest in Italy. The headquarters of the expedition was located in the town of Peschici and the main subject was the Manaccora cave, also known as the Grotta degli Dei (Cave of the Gods). Excavations were also made at Monte Pucci, home to a necropolis with hundreds of underground tombs. The Dutch archaeologist Hendrik Leopold and their German colleague Elise Baumgartel worked together in the Rellini's team.
Since the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom has been in a constant state of confusion about the future of the nation and its relationship with mainland Europe. Last Friday was B-day but even that rock-solid deadline was not met. Theresa May, the lady who should have steered everything in the right direction, turned out to be the direct object of this confusion. Although the mood around Brexit is still very pessimistic, there is one group of professionals that is getting some fun out of it. For almost three years the cartoonists have been producing an inexhaustible stream of political prints on Brexit. M.C. Escher has been playing a notable role in this.
On the 23rd of March 1908 Gottfried Wilhelm Locher was born, a man whose name is barely known to the general public, but who has been of immense importance to the legacy of M.C. Escher. Locher already had an illustrious career in anthropology when he made a number of important contributions to this legacy. He gave lectures and wrote articles about Escher, presenting brilliant interpretations of the richness of his art. He highlighted the bold contrasts in his oeuvre. Between light and dark, day and night, flat and spatial, reality and illusion, latent and manifest, far and near, infinite and finite, order and chaos, reason and emotion and between head and heart. Locher saw Escher as the artist to have managed to bridge the gap between art and science. Locher was also one of the first major Escher collectors. He went out on a limb for the artist, who received scant appreciation until the late 1950s.
Today is Kids’ Museum Night. One ticket enables children to visit 20 locations in The Hague and Voorburg. Our museum is participating as well, of course. The link between children and Escher is very clear. The graphic artist was able to look at the world with a curious eye and he managed to capture the playful spirit of children in his magical worlds. He also viewed nature with a sense of awe. For him, a mountain landscape, deciduous forest or summery lawn was never just a mountain landscape, deciduous forest or summery lawn. He saw details that no one else saw and he was able to enjoy to the fullest what nature had to offer him.
In March 1951 Escher produced a print with the deceptively simple name Plane Filling I. I say 'deceptively simple' because at that point in time he had been a graphic artist for 30 years and had already produced countless tessellations. The principle of the regular division of the plane formed the core of his artistry, the subject to which he always kept returning. Why, then, did he suddenly produce a work that seems to suggest it is the first time he is tackling such a subject?
On 1 March 1958, Giacomo Balla, one of the most important artists of futurism, died. Escher probably did not know him personally, but he was familiar with his work. There are a number of surprising similarities between the futurist Balla and the early work of the graphic artist Escher.
On 20 February 1941 Maurits and Jetta moved with their three children to Nicolaas Beetslaan in Baarn. The couple had been living abroad since 1925. The first years in Rome, where George and Arnold were born. In the summer of 1935 they moved to the Swiss town Château-d’Oex and in 1937 they moved again, this time to Ukkel, a suburb of Brussels. In 1938 Son number three, Jan, was born there in 1938. After a more or less forced departure from Rome due to the rise of fascism and the health of his sons, and escape from the cold and the isolation in Switzerland, Ukkel seemed like a safe haven. But the arrival of the war and the death of his parents in 1939 and 1940 respectively forced Escher to reconsider his situation. After the German invasion of the Netherlands and Belgium in May 1940, it felt logic to return to his native country.
On 22 April 1932, Escher and his friend Giuseppe Haas-Triverio left for Sicily for a month. This was new territory for both of them. They stuck to the northern part, which they reached from Naples by the steamship Florio. The number of places they visited over the next month was impressive: the port city of Palermo with its university; the Saracen town of Corleone; Cefalù, with its famous cathedral; the Greek town of Tindari; the seaside resort of Milazzo; the island of Lipari; the beautifully situated town of Taormina; the Etna region; Giarre, with its traces of the volcanic eruption in 1928; Randazzo, with its houses built of dark-coloured lava; the lava formations at Bronte; Cesarò; Roina; Cerami; Nicosia, where the inhabitants speak a Lombard dialect; Sperlinga; Enna; Gangi; Petralia Sottana; Sclafani; Segesta, with its Greek temple; and Caltavuturo. During that month Escher produced 23 sketches which he turned into 12 prints in the winter of 1932-1933. Together they give a good impression of the visit to the island that had made such a big impression on him and Haas-Triverio.
Escher’s first solo exhibition was held in the United States, in the Whyte Gallery in Washington, in October and November 1954. It was an initiative of the American Charles Alldredge, who had become a fan and collector after reading articles about Escher in magazines Time and Life in 1951. The two started corresponding and Alldredge went on to become something of a manager of Escher’s interests in the US. After the successful exhibition in the Whyte Gallery, he became increasingly busy looking after those interests. His workload increased considerably in 1956. Alldredge was asked to cooperate in the election campaign of Senator Estes Kefauver, who was attempting to become the Democratic candidate for the presidential election,
A large exhibition was held in the Stedelijk Museum in February 1962 to celebrate the 50th jubilee of De Grafische, the association for the promotion of graphic arts. Naturally, Escher participated, as did his friend Gerd Arntz and many other fellow graphic artists. It was not exactly the first time that graphic artists were exhibiting together and under the name of their association, but they had never done so as lavishly as they did for the jubilee exhibition. Under the title ‘Print’, 300 works were displayed at the Stedelijk Museum.
Poetry Day, next Thursday (31 January), is the start of Poetry Week in the Netherlands. Countless activities will be held to celebrate and encourage poetry. M.C. Escher was not a poet, but he did have a brother who met that description: Johan George Escher (usually called George, 1894-1969), the eldest son of the second marriage of George Arnold Escher with Sara Adriana Gleichman. He published two poetry collections. The first one, Het bezwaarde hart (The Burdened Heart), was published by Van Dishoeck in 1937. The second, Oude en nieuwe gedichten (Old and New Poems), appeared just before his death in 1969. Brother Maurits created the title page for the debut.
Of all the themes and subjects Escher had tackled during his career, the one he was most drawn to was the regular division of the plane. He engaged in countless experiments to examine the many ways in which a plane could be filled with patterns of geometric shapes. He did so in drawings in notebooks. In the process (and this embodies Escher’s great strength) he managed to bend these geometric shapes into recognisable figures. Crudely at first, but as he got more adept at this, the fish, birds, lizards, beetles, butterflies, horses and other animals and shapes kept getting more refined. The drawings were a form of research, but he also drew from them ideas for new work or for commercial assignments.
Escher did not fill the page of his diary for the first week of January 1942 with appointments but rather with a list. He was often writing lists in his diary, from shopping lists and train times to lists of work sold and his own weight and that of his family members. But this was a very special list. It contained the names of the artists who had joined the ‘Kultuurkamer’, which was established on 25 November 1941. In Germany itself, the ‘Reichskulturkammer’ was founded on 22 September 1933 by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Its Dutch counterpart was also established to serve the occupying force and its Nazi ideology. Keywords were nationalism, solidarity with the nation and the people, historical awareness, banishing ‘degenerate, unhealthy, unnatural creativity’ and a ‘positive Germanic attitude’. Any artist wishing to exhibit, publish or make music had to be a member. Jews were excluded. By becoming a member, one was formally assenting to the politics of the occupier.
We’ve reached the end of 2018. On Facebook and here, on Escher today, every week we brought you a story about the life and work of M.C. Escher. All the images we used are collected in this video. We thank everyone for your attention this year and we will keep providing you with stories in 2019!
In the autumn and winter of 1930-1931 Escher developed the sketches he had produced and photographs he had taken during his spring trip through the Italian provinces of Campanile and Calabria accompanied by his friends Giuseppe Haas-Triverio, Roberto Schiess and Jean Roussett. The woodcuts and lithographs that he produced bear the poetic names of the places he had visited: Palizzi, Morano, Pentedatillo, Stilo, Scilla, Tropea, Santa Severina, Rocco Imperiale, Rossano. He was so impressed by the mountain village of Pentedattilo that he produced two woodcuts and a lithograph of it.
Many people regard Escher as the master of illusions. A wizard on paper who tricks you with his impossible constructions and wondrous metamorphoses. What he creates cannot exist. Even if you see it with your own eyes. Yet that is not always the case. Escher was indeed fascinated by the illusions that the flat surface could evoke, but sometimes he just wanted to show the beauty in reality. Three Worlds is one of the finest examples of this.
Bearing the same title as was used for the retrospective exhibition in 1968, the book De werelden van M.C. Escher (The Worlds of M.C. Escher) was launched in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague on 23 November 1971. On 10 December, the artist himself received the first copy in the Rosa Spier Huis (retirement home for Dutch artists) in Laren. Prior to this it was clear that the book would be a huge success. The Committee for the Collective Propaganda of the Dutch book (CPNB) had proclaimed it the ‘Book of the Month’. Publisher Meulenhoff initially aimed at 40,000 copies, but soon increased the circulation to 50,000. Yet even this revised quantity had already been sold by the time the book was available in the bookstore. Once again the number of copies was increased, this time to 75,000, but within a month these were all sold too. For an introductory price of ƒ12.50, buyers received a book containing five introductions, a bibliography, an overview of Escher’s main exhibitions and lectures, and 270 captioned images (including eight in colour). A bargain.
On November 24, 1960, the writer’s workshop Oulipo was founded. It stands for ‘Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle‘ or the ‘Workplace for Possible Literature‘. It is a loosely formed group of French-speaking writers and mathematicians who produce literary works that are subject to certain conditions or restrictions. The use of this type of restriction was not new (writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, James Joyce, Ferdinand de Saussure and Gertrude Stein already worked with it), but it is the first time that it has been done in an organized manner.
Escher was crazy about the jagged and vertical landscapes he encountered in Abruzzo and Calabria, on the Amalfi coast, on Sicily and on the French island of Corsica. He traversed these areas in a variety of ways for many years. Armed with his sketchpad and wearing knickerbockers, coarse argyle socks and sturdy walking shoes, he climbed the Corsican peaks, descended to the coastline of Amalfi, walked through the rugged mountains in Abruzzo and Calabria and braved the heat of Sicily. But there was one place where he kept returning to: Atrani.
From 14 November to 14 December 1950 Escher had an exhibition in the Amsterdam gallery Le Canard. He was exhibiting there along with his fellow graphic artist Harry van Kruiningen. The invitation card was adorned with a vignette featuring little devils, a wood engraving that Escher had produced specially for the exhibition. He displayed graphic work and a hand-woven tapestry there, as the card also shows.
Last week I wrote that Escher hasn't been positively regarded by art critics for years. But in the end he himself was his greatest critic. There are certainly exceptions, but often he was dissatisfied with his latest creation. This varied from ‘this is just not good enough’ and ‘there should be more to it than this’ to ‘this really is a total failure.’ At the end of October 1955 he was again dissatisfied with his work.
Nowadays M.C. Escher may be very popular with both the general public and art critics, but this was certainly not always the case. He has been ignored for years by many art lovers and critics. His work was dismissed as being decorative and was at most technically well made. Contentwise he had nothing to report. This opinion is already reflected in the earliest reviews of the twenties and kept returning in the decades that followed.
On 20 October 1922, Escher creates a drawing that—in retrospect—would have a major impact on his life. He made his first voyage by freighter that autumn, from Amsterdam to the Spanish port city of Málaga. The ship also moored in Alicante and Taragona, after which Escher traveled by train to Barcelona, Madrid, Avila and Toledo. In each city he stayed for a few days to take in the setting properly. On 17 October, after a long and very slow train journey from Toledo, he arrived in Granada. There he visited the beautiful Alhambra. This 14th-century castle was once built as an aristocratic and administrative centre for the last Moorish regime in Spain.
From 2 October 2018 to 13 January 2019, Escher in The Palace will be exhibiting two special woodblocks that Escher cut in May 1957 and the book in which the accompanying prints were published. The blocks and the book stem from the collection of Museum Meermanno in The Hague. Escher in The Palace is proud to be able to exhibit them and we are therefore very grateful to Museum Meermanno for this loan.
As of today Leonardo da Vinci can be seen in the Teylers museum in Haarlem. It is the first major overview ever of original artworks by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) in the Netherlands. Teylers shows 33 drawings of the master and as many works of contemporaries. Da Vinci was not only able to draw and paint beautifully, he is also world famous for his inventions of flying machines and military artillery. He did not see art and science as separate ‘worlds’. For him they had everything to do with each other. This is where Da Vinci and Escher find each other. Both are first and foremost excellent observers. They look at the world with a logical, orderly view and know how to get those observations and the thoughts they derive from them on paper. They both did this with their left hand. Both are also part of popular culture through one or a few works (think of the Mona Lisa and the Vitruvian man and Relativity and Day and Night), but it is questionable if people know who the makers are.
In October 1925 the young couple Maurits and Jetta can finally start setting up their first home. It’s the top floor of a house that is still under construction, in a new neighborhood on the slopes of the Monteverde. The house on Via Alessandro Poerio 100 was beautifully situated with a view of the Tiber valley, in the southeastern part of the city. On the other side of the river was the Monte Palatino, with the Roman quarter Trastevere below. The couple had already bought the house at the end of 1924, but first they had to wait until it was finished, after which it turned out to be too humid. They let it dry all summer and spent those months at the Albergo del Toro in Ravello; the place where they had met.
On September 23, 1957, Escher returned to Amsterdam from a sea voyage with the freighter s.s. Luna. By then, Escher had long been addicted to traveling on cargo ships and he seized every opportunity to book such a trip. In August and September 1957 he bobbed for seven weeks on the Mediterranean Sea while enjoying the waves, the peace, the light and the silence. Back in the Netherlands, he mused on for a while.
Lizards had fascinated him for quite some time, but in the summer and fall of 1956 Escher was particularly busy with them. This fascination came not so much from the behavior or way of life of the creatures, but from the characteristic form. It lent itself very well for making tessellations. In that respect, a lizard (or salamander) interested him as much or as little as birds and fish did. These three animal groups are by far the most common in his work, but they owe that status purely to their form.
Between 1927 and 1938 the Escher family spent almost every summer in the Swiss town of Steckborn, with Jetta’s sister Nina and her husband Oskar Schibler. In 1929 they even stayed for several months, from July to mid October. Escher had already made a trip to the Italian Abruzzo region together with his friend Giuseppe Haas-Triverio in spring. The tour yielded 28 drawings, one of which he developed into a lithograph in Steckborn, his first of an Italian landscape.
During the war years, the volume of new prints Escher produced fell sharply. He lacked inspiration and he had other things . But that does not mean he was not engaged in any creative work. During the war he threw himself into his regular division drawings, constantly devising new variants for filling the plane with regular patterns. Between the outbreak of WWII in 1939 and the Dutch liberation in May 1945, he produced about 35 new drawings.
On 4 July 1935 Escher and his family moved from Rome to the Swiss town Château-d'Oex, after which he traveled almost directly to the Netherlands to arrange things for a long stay in Switzerland. From his parents’ home in The Hague he visited, among other things, his old teacher Jessurun de Mesquita, he consulted with his cousin Anton Escher about a logo for his machine factory, he talks to the Dutch postal service ‘PTT’ and ‘Drukkerij Enschedé’ about his design for the aviation fund stamp and he meets with his friends Jan van der Does the Willebois and Bas Kist.
Between all visits he spends three weeks working on a very detailed, loving portrait of his father.
On 19 August 1960, Escher held a lecture at the Fifth Congress and General Assembly of the International Union of Crystallography. He was invited to this congress by Prof. Dr Carolina H. MacGillavry, professor in chemical crystallography at the University of Amsterdam. In 1950 she was appointed as the first female member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. MacGillavry was a great admirer of Escher and would go on to publish the book Symmetry Aspects of M.C. Escher’s Periodic Drawings in 1965. For crystallographers, the tessellations on which Escher spent years working in his sketchbooks were ideal teaching materials. His patterns are very well suited to being used to study the symmetry, repetition and reflection that are so characteristic of the field. Below is one of the drawings from Escher’s sketchbooks that was exhibited in Cambridge and is included in the book by MacGillavry.
In March 1965, Escher met the French artist and professor Albert Flocon, lecturer at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Flocon mainly created copper engravings and, like Escher, he was fascinated by the mystery of the perspective. Especially the curvilinear perspective, a form that Escher has also used several times (think of Hand with reflecting sphere, Balcony, Three Spheres II, Drop (Dewdrop) and Self Portrait in Spherical Mirror).
The meeting proved to be of great importance to Escher; Flocon ensured that his prints became known in Paris. The professor personally mediated on the sale of prints and an organized Escher exhibition in Paris. In October 1965 Flocon published a ten-page article about Escher in the important monthly Jardin des Arts.
Today is International Cat Day, a great time to show the cats Escher captured in one of his prints. There are not that many. He often used animals in his work, but his tessellations and metamorphoses mostly feature birds, fish and reptiles. The cats are mainly from his younger years. This is one of those early ones, from when he was 21 years old, around the time he decided to become a graphic artist. On 17 September 1919 he moved to Haarlem. He gets a white cat from his landlady, which would inspire him to produce several woodcuts. On this one the cat lies on the lap of a man who visited Escher in Haarlem. We do not know who it is. Probably one of his childhood friends, Bas Kist or Jan van der Does de Willebois, or his older brother Nol.
See also International Cat Day 2017, featuring a cat on Corsica.
Summer is in full swing. Not the time to be working hard. That is something for autumn, winter and early spring. At least, that was the timetable to which Escher largely adhered throughout his working life. If you look at the months he worked (these are known from 1922 onwards), they usually span September to May. It is a logical consequence of his approach; in spring and summer he went out to get inspiration, to take photos and to draw. In autumn and in winter he developed these preliminary studies into woodcuts, wood engravings and lithographs.
Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions to this rule. 43 exceptions to be precise.
It is 268 years ago today that Johann Sebastian Bach died. On 28 July 1750 the German composer breathed his last breath in Leipzig. Maurits Cornelis Escher was a big fan. The similarities between them were considerable: the mathematical order, the strictness of the rules, the symmetry, the systematic approach.
Escher was particularly fascinated by Bach’s canon. In a letter to his friend Hein ’s-Gravezande in 1940, he wrote:
'Now, I should like to say something else to you about the connection with music, primarily that of Bach, i.e. the Fugue or, put more simply, the canon. I loved Bach and I love him too without “understanding” his technique, but since I understand a (little) bit of it, I love it all the more.'
It is a tropical summer in the Netherlands and what could be more tropical than a palm tree? Certainly, Maurits Cornelis Escher saw something very special in this iconic tree. He was never specific about what he saw, but it is striking how often it recurs in his work. The first of these was created in July 1923 — a stylised palm tree with fronds like parasols, hanging bunches of palm fruits, the scaly trunk and a halo that seems to surround the tree.
On 17 July 1950, Maurits and his youngest son Jan (11 years old) left for Paris, the beginning of a French trip just like the one he had made as a child.
'One hour before arriving in Paris, Jan said: you have to let me know as soon as you see the Eiffel Tower. But in the end he saw it before I did.'
Eldest son Arthur had moved to Lausanne to study geology on the advice of uncle Beer. George had recently enlisted for military service. On this, Escher wrote:
'George has been doing his military service for two weeks now, much to our chagrin, after years of delaying his studies. This is lousy, because you never know whether such a boy will later find the energy to continue studying. [This fear proved to be unfounded.] So we are here with Jantje who, still in primary school, will not be leaving us any time soon. '
In July 1960 Escher completed the last of his four ‘circle limits’. He had struggled with it for a while, but it was a publication by the Canadian professor H.S.M. Coxeter that set him on the right path. He had met this professor at the University of Toronto in 1954, during the International Congress of Mathematicians. In the article, Coxeter described how a tessellation from the centre to the edge of a circle is increasingly reduced and the motifs come to lie infinitely close together. In 1957 Coxeter gave a lecture for the Royal Society of Canada and he asked Escher by letter if he could use a few of the graphic artist’s works in the lecture. Afterwards, Coxeter sent Escher a copy of his lecture (which had been published under the name Crystal Symmetry and its Generalizations), in which he also included the figure about which Escher would become so enthusiastic. Coxeter in turn based this figure on the work of the French mathematician Jules Henri Poincaré, who visualised this form of hyperbolic geometry in his Poincaré disc.
In June 1952 Escher created the lithograph Gravity, which due to its subject naturally fits within the series of planetoids and stars that he depicted between 1948 and 1954. His celestial bodies all appear to be set in the same science fiction world, which somehow seems unlikely to be a place where Escher would feel at home. The first wood engraving Stars (1948) seems deceptively simple, but Gravity, Double Planetoid (1948) and Tetrahedral Planetoid (1954) are a lot more complex. These planetoids look as if they might be inhabited by civilisations somewhat like our own.
The planetoid featured in Gravity is a small stellated dodecahedron. Its body has twelve five-pointed stars which are each occupied by a pyramid. Escher loved this spatial figure because it's simple and complex at the same time.
On 22 June 1931 writer Jan Walch and Escher, together with publisher Van Dishoeck, talked about publishing a story by Walch which had been illustrated with woodcuts by Escher. The story was set in Oudewater, a town known for its ‘Heksenwaag’ (witches’ weigh house). It became famous during the 16th century because people accused of witchcraft were offered an honest chance of proving their innocence. In many cities and countries such trials were usually rigged, resulting in the burning or drowning of hundreds of innocent people. Many people accused of witchcraft from all over Europe rushed headlong to Oudewater to avoid being burned at the stake.
In the summer of 1931 Escher and Walch had visited the town together. The artist took photos and bought postcards that might help him with his subsequent illustrations. Three weeks later he sent Walch his first woodcut: a witch on a broomstick, floating above the sleepy town on a clear night.
On 15 June 1961, at 18.05, Escher left Baarn together with his wife Jetta. They took the train to Rotterdam where they boarded the night train to Bern at 20.03. The next morning they arrived in Bern at 7.44. There they were picked up by Escher’s friend Paul Keller and his daughter Theresa. Together with Theresa, Jetta left for the Keller home in Münsingen. Maurits and Paul took the train to Venice where they boarded the Cagliari.
It was the start of a boat trip that took the two friends to Trieste, Bari, Naples, Salerno, Catania, Messina, Palermo, Algiers, Lisbon, London and Hamburg. We know all this in detail because Escher kept a careful record of the trip in his travel journal.
On 7 June 1968, exactly 50 years ago today, ‘De werelden van Escher‘ (‘The Worlds of M.C. Escher’), the first Dutch retrospective exhibition of M.C. Escher, opened in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. It marked the occasion of Escher’s 70th birthday, on 17 June. It certainly was not his first exhibition but it was the first time an important art museum, of its own accord, was exhibiting a retrospective of his work. Approached both from an art history perspective and from Escher’s personal systematics.
You have 10 more days to view some remarkable Escher prints at Escher in The Palace. On 11 June they will be returned to the archive to be replaced with new graphic treasures. We previously discussed the woodcut The Third Day of the Creation, from a series in which Escher depicted the Creation in a stark contrast of black and white.
Today we focus on a woodcut that does not belong to this series, but which does have a biblical theme. The Fall of Man shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the moment they have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden.
On 25 May 1930, Escher returned to his home town of Rome after travelling through the Italian provinces of Campanile and Calabria together with his friends Giuseppe Haas-Triverio, Roberto Schiess and Jean Roussett. In the autumn and winter he would go on to develop his impressions of that journey into a series of woodcuts and lithographs. As a basis for this he used sketches as well as photographs, which he made and took during the trip and stuck neatly in a photo album. At first glance these photographs seem like souvenirs of a beautiful holiday, but most of the landscapes would subsequently feature in his prints.
On 22 May 1930, the four companions were in the town of Rossano in Calabria.
In May 1937 Escher created Metamorphosis I, a narrative work in which the coastal town of Atrani slowly changes into a grid of cubes which subsequently transform into the shape of a caricatured Asian figure. If Atrani stands for the past in this print, the hooded Asian could be seen as the future. Thinking this through, the analogy of Escher’s life with that of an old martial arts master becomes an interesting one.
There is no better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a photo of a happy mother. Maurits created this portrait of his wife Jetta and their firstborn son George in the spring of 1927. The couple had just moved to their house on Via Alessandro Poerio in Rome. In the background the majolica tiles can be seen, which Escher designed for the hallway and the dining room. George (nicknamed ‘Jojo‘) had been born the summer before and, after living in several temporary houses, the young family were finally able to call this house their home. This happiness led to a second son in December 1928 and a third one in March 1938.
This work by Escher is a fitting illustration of Liberation Day, the day on which the Dutch celebrate the end of the German occupation in 1945. His birds and fish are wresting themselves free from the firm grip the tessellation is holding them in.
There is probably no artist who pictured himself as often as Rembrandt van Rijn did. About 40 of his self-portraits are known. But Escher too was no stranger to self-portraits. Between 1917 and 1950 he produced 12 of them, several while being reflected in a spherical mirror. Looking in the mirror he pictures his own image, the way he sees it, but also the way he wants it to be seen. Like all works, a self-portrait is based on reality, a perspective on this reality. That is particularly the case with Escher. The viewer wants to see the artist, but has to deal with the version the artist wishes to present of himself at that particular point in time.
Exactly 50 years ago, on 20 April 1968, Dutch weekly magazine Vrij Nederland published a long interview with M.C. Escher by the legendary journalist Bibeb (Elisabeth Lampe-Soutberg). At the time Escher was not really looking forward to it. Because he found the contents to negative, he didn't really come around to reading the magazine thoroughly.
'I relented, though I do not see the good of it. We have gone through an initial three-hour seance, but she is not satisfied in the least. The day after tomorrow she will return for another whole afternoon. It is nice to see her work, though—we talk while she keeps a large notebook on her lap in which she is constantly writing, barely looking at it while she is doing so. What will come of it I do not know, but we are in this boat together so I will bravely keep rowing. She is an entertaining and rather nice woman. She gets along with mother too and vice versa. (I informed her upfront about our unusual circumstances, which the article will not mention.) I will get to read her handiwork, to make alterations if needed, before it gets printed.'
Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant publishes a gradually expanding series on postwar pop culture in the Netherlands. The paper describes the history in 100 objects, focussing on utensils, decorative items, sports equipment, clothing and art objects too. Art journalist Mark Moorman wrote a piece on the wooden sphere featuring lizards that Escher had carved from beech wood in 1949. We have translated it for our readers from abroad.
In Escher at The Palace you can always view Escher’s most well-known works: Day and Night, Ascending and Descending, Reptiles, Waterfall, Print Gallery, Relativity, Encounter, Other World, Convex and Concave, etc. Yet we do, of course, also devote attention to the many other prints from his oeuvre, which spans over 50 years. But before they are given the attention they deserve and their 15 minutes of fame, they await their turn in the archive. Patiently, yet determinedly.
Good Friday, St Matthew Passion Day. For Escher, Easter had always been tied closely to this oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach. He was not alone: the St Matthew Passion is without a doubt the most popular piece of classical music in the Netherlands. Each year most of this country is fixated on Bach in the days leading up to Easter. But for Escher this love prevailed all year round. Everything in his life was connected to this composer who resembled him in so many ways. The systematic approach, the rhythm, the repetition, the symmetry. The similarities are considerable.
Maurits and Jetta did not just have a great time during their trip across and around the Mediterranean Sea in the spring of 1936, their journey also proved to be a great source of inspiration for the artist. To pay for it Escher had offered to produce a print of every port town they visited and give several copies of these to the Italian shipping company Adria. To be used as they saw fit. Between August 1936 and March 1937 this led to a whole series of new prints, including some that we discussed previously: Leaning Tower of Pisa, Catania and Porthole.
Still Life and Street is based on this trip too. It started with a drawing of a street in the coastal town of Savona, which he did on 10 June. Whereas other works from this period are quite realistic, this woodcut (together with Still Life with Mirror) started Escher’s journey towards optical illusion. He was used to integrating ‘screens’ in his landscapes and cityscapes, by building the composition out of elements that are stacked behind each other within the visual field. But in Still Life and Street he uses the technique to generate a shock effect in the viewer.
The weather in the Netherlands is not really cooperating, but it is true: today is the start of spring!
A common feature in Escher’s work is birds. He created hundreds of them. In his woodcuts, wood engravings and occasionally in a lithograph. Sometimes by themselves, but usually in a group. But most often he used them in his tessellations, which are heavily populated by birds.
On 18 March 1960 Escher finished one of his most iconic works: the lithograph Ascending and Descending. The print was the result of a remarkable exchange of ideas between the graphic artist and the British mathematician Roger Penrose. The latter first came into contact with M.C. Escher at his solo exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1954, which was held during the International Congress of Mathematicians of that year.
Today is the start of ‘Boekenweek’ (Book Week), a nice occasion to highlight an artwork that is increasingly rare: a bookplate. Escher created several of them, mostly for friends. The first one when he was only 17, for his own library.
The one you see here, from 1946, was for his opposite neighbour in Baarn, engineer Albert Ernst Bosman. He must have been a bookworm, looking at the one Escher pictured in this bookplate. He did not know it yet but this neighbour would be of great significance to him. Bosman was the one to bring him in contact with Hans de Rijk, the man of many pseudonyms.
On 5 March 1965 Escher received the culture prize of the city of Hilversum. He gave a lecture in which he demonstrated once again how funny he could be. For many people the name Escher calls to mind an image of a bearded, strict, precise man labouring away on mind-boggling prints in the isolation of his study.
This image existed in his own time too and is one that Escher initially endorses in his lecture:
'By nature I am not spontaneous. Creating a graphic print demands patience and deliberateness and the ideas that I want to express in it usually come to life after careful consideration. Therefore, I mostly spend my time in a quiet studio and, however beneficial it might be to practicing my profession, it does not foster eloquence.'
Despite the atrocities of war, some kind of optimism took hold of Escher at the end of February 1943. It was fuelled by nature. On 20 February he writes in his diary: ‘two butterflies and lots of snowdrops around farmers gardens’. And on the 22 February: ‘first song of the blackbird’. On 3 March 1943 he even starts working on a new print. For this lithograph, Reptiles, he does have to borrow a stone. That is why only 30 copies were printed.
In a letter to his son Arthur from 27 February 1955 Escher writes about Light in August, a 1932 novel by William Faulkner, which Escher had read it in translation.
'... for — Christ! — that gentleman’s English is so damned difficult. Thanks to the good English lessons you had at secondary school you may well understand the original. I have not read a modern novel that had such an effect on me for many years, probably not since The Plague by Camus. It is partly that the psychological treatment of the murderer, comparable to Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, though completely different, is unusually gripping. He is one of those rare writers with whom one dare not find fault as a layman and who towers over most of their contemporaries.'
Convex and Concave is one of Escher’s best-known works, a narrative print brimming with elements that can be interpreted in two ways. Nigh on two years later, in February 1957, he created a lithograph on the same subject, albeit with an image that is a lot more concise.
You have just a few more weeks to see some remarkable wood engravings and woodcuts by Escher up close in The Palace. On 12 March they will be returned to the archive to be replaced by new graphic treasures. Earlier we discussed Grasshopper, Tournai Cathedral and Scarabs. Today we will focus on St. Vincent, martyr.
These photos from Maurits’s private album exude happiness. He and Jetta got to know each other in the spring of 1923. They met in a guest house in Ravenna and their love grew over the next few months.
In the years after the war Escher used to take walks after supper in the woods surrounding his house in Baarn. He spent many hours there, both to clear his head but also to fill it with new ideas for graphic work. From 1951 onwards he started to write them down in his diary. One of these notes from that year goes like this:
'Traces of car and bicycle tires, perspectively seen, diagonally; Sloping recess filled with water: puddle. In it, the moon is reflected.'
He would go on to develop this idea into the woodcut Puddle, from February 1952. He subsequently described this print as follows:
'The cloudless evening sky is reflected in a puddle which a recent shower has left in a woodland path. The tracks of two motor cars, two bicycles and two pedestrians are impressed in the boggy ground.'
On 31 January 1944 Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita was taken away by the Germans. He died in Auschwitz on 11 February. De Mesquita was Escher’s teacher, the man who would convince him to start a career in the graphic arts.
You have just a few more weeks to see some remarkable wood engravings and woodcuts by Escher up close in The Palace. On 28 February they will be returned to the archive to be replaced by new graphic treasures. Earlier we discussed the wood engraving Grasshopper and the woodcut Tournai Cathedral. Today we will focus on Scarabs, a wood engraving from April 1935.
Today is Poetry Day, the start of Poetry Week in the Netherlands. Escher was not a poet, but he had a poetic spirit. He must have had, to create this mind-boggling oeuvre. Moreover, his works lend themselves very well to being used as subject matter for poetry. To mark the occasion of Poetry Day, we are drawing attention to a special publication on Escher, the title page of which comes close to a poem. And if he was not a poet, then he was a troubadour.
Fishes and birds are Escher’s favorite animals. Or, at least, that is what his work seems to suggest. When he was experimenting with tessellations in the late 1930s, he arrived at these shapes quite soon. They lend themselves very well to the juggling act that is needed for this technique. Which is why they keep popping up in his work. Individually, like in Day and Night, Sun and Moon, Liberation, Fishes, Swans, Depth, Three Worlds and Whirlpools. In combination with other animals, but often also together. Consider in this regard Sky and Water I and II, Metamorphosis II, Predestination and Two Intersecting Planes.
Between 26 April and 28 June 1936 Escher takes a round trip by freighter along the shores of Italy and Spain. He also travels inland by train. His wife Jetta accompanies him on a section of this trip. The couple enjoyed themselves immensely. They had moved to Switzerland the year before and were missing Italy terribly. On 13 June Escher arrived in Livorno by freighter. Jetta had travelled back the day before.
From his travel journal:
'At 10.10 I journeyed to Pisa by train. From the Piazza Vittorio I took the trolleybus-cum-tram to the station, the same model as I saw running back and forth between Venice Mestre—a very pleasant and fast connection. In Pisa by 10.30 and then on to the Duomo by tram. From the first gallery of the Leaning Tower I did a drawing of the cathedral, on which I worked constantly until 3.30. At the station I ate something hurriedly and took the train back to Livorno at 4.18’
On 14 January 1898 Lewis Carroll, the British author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, died. Carroll passed away five months before Escher was born. Although their paths never crossed, the author and the artist have a lot in common. Both were frighteningly thin, both were addicted to long walks, both were obsessed by documenting the minutiae of their daily life, both were mad about chess and intrigued by game elements and by using these in their work.
The dazzling print Other World is one of Escher’s masterpieces. And rightly so. He created this combination of woodcut and wood engraving in January 1947. It is like looking through the windows of a brick room upon a crater-filled lunar surface. This is remarkable in itself, but what makes this print really impressive is that Escher combines three views (nadir, horizon and zenith) on this moon in one image.
The first post this year: a skull. Not the most obvious choice but for Escher it is not all that strange. He created several skulls and skeletons. Stand-alone works but also as part of a poster or a bookplate. This is the very first one, from January 1917. Maurits is 18 and fascinated by this symbol of mortality. In his youth in particular it kept him occupied, which is not that strange for a brooding adolescent.
We've reached the end of 2017. On Facebook and here, on Escher today, we brought you nearly 100 short stories and anecdotes about the life and work of M.C. Escher. All the images we used are collected in this video. We thank everyone for your attention this year and we will keep providing you with stories in 2018!
21 December, winter begins. Not Escher's favourite season, although during this time of the year he was most productive. He had no choice, there was nowhere else to go. For years he would travel during spring and summer and these trips would bring him inspiration for his prints. During autumn and winter, he would use his travel drawings and photo's for new woodcuts, wood engravings and lithographs. But the cold and snow that accompanied the winter months did not appeal to him much.
December 1938 is an ice-cold month in Brussels. A perfect setting for a little woodcut (18 x 14 cm) which Escher created shortly before for the Dutch critic and poet Jan Greshoff, who also lived in Brussels. For his 50th birthday on 15 December 1938, Greshoff’s friends offered him this woodcut, showing a wintry Brussels with his own house as a shiny beacon.
On 12 December 1934 the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome hosted the opening of an exhibition with paintings and drawings by Otto B. Kat (a personal friend of Maurits) and woodcuts and lithographs by M.C. Escher. Despite the rainy conditions, interest in the opening was huge. Fascism’s grip on Italian society was growing stronger by the day and this exhibition seemed to be used by many as counterbalance. World leaders as well as religious authorities were present, as were several directors of foreign institutions, museum directors, artists and critics.
On 8 December 1928 Arthur Eduard Escher was born, the second son of Maurits and Jetta. Arthur (named after Jetta’s father) was preceded by George in 1926 and followed by Jan in 1938. It was a complicated delivery and Jetta had to stay in hospital for several weeks. Just as he would do for Jan ten years later, Escher created a woodcut dedicated to the birth. He also made photos of the newborn and his brother.
Maurits, Jetta and their two sons spent July and August of 1934 in the artists’ village of Saint-Idesbald. The village is home to several museums, including that of the world-famous surrealist painter Paul Delvaux. Escher had rented a house there, together with his brother Eddy and sister-in-law Irma. During that holiday, Escher and Jetta visited Ghent, Bruges and Tournai. That same holiday Escher created a woodcut of the cathedrals of Ghent and Tournai.
Between 1948 and 1954 Escher created a series of planetoids and stars. These celestial bodies all appear to be set in the same science fiction world, a world that at first glance seems alien to the earthly, austere artist. The series began with the wood engraving Stars, which features two chameleons interlocked in a system of regular octahedrons.
This week we had a slight change in terms of the works being exhibited. Some were returned to the archive and were replaced by a series of other works by Escher. One of these is Grasshopper, a wood engraving from March 1935. In very fine detail Escher shows a specimen of this winged insect with its powerful hind legs, compound eyes, antennae and folded wings.
Studying concepts like eternity and infinity in his work was definitely an obsession for Escher. He explored countless ways of suggesting boundlessness within the limited frame of his woodblock or his lithography stone. One of the ways he approached this was playing with depth and perspective. By varying the thickness of lines, sizes of shapes and foreground versus background, he achieved this sense of infinite space in a number of works.
Although he was fascinated by the concept of the regular division of the plane even early on in his career, it was not until 1936 that Escher tackled it in earnest. A period ensued in which he performed countless experiments with ways of filling a plane with patterns of geometric shapes. He did this in the form of drawings which he did in a notebook with a view to mastering the research process.
On 16 November 1953 Escher gave a lecture to the Friends of the Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar, on the occasion of an exhibition of his work. During those years Escher had frequent opportunities to exhibit in museums, art galleries and universities, often together with two or more fellow members of the Association of Dutch Graphic Artists. He would usually accompany these exhibitions with a lecture on his own work.
At the end of 1933, Escher started to explore the possibilities of applying his work to commercial assignments. The first attempt was a design for wrapping paper. He hoped to sell it to a number of large department stores: de Bijenkorf, Gerzon, Zingone and Korall. Using their logos as motifs, he created several patterns that could be printed on wrapping paper. He also experimented with the names by making them interlock in playful ways.
Early November 1957 Escher finished his woodcut and wood engraving Whirlpools. He used a new printing technique for it, cutting one block which he printed on the same piece of paper in two colours.
Partly because of his friendship with Bas Kist, Mauk (as he was called in his younger days) Escher started to focus more on his drawing in 1917-18. In Bas he found an equal who took to drawing as much as he did. Together they also went looking for the secrets of the linocut and woodcut. Drawing and graphic arts became more important to them than school.
In October 1939, while Europe stood on the brink of World War II, Escher started working on his big Metamorphosis II (19.5 x 400 cm). He worked on it continuously for nearly six months. During these months he wrote several letters to his friend Hein ’s-Gravezande that make manifest his obsession with this woodcut. He wrote detailed accounts of his intentions and working methods and he extemporised on the possible meaning of the colours, the fish, the bees, the birds and the (Saracen?) tower.
In 1951 the magazines Time and Life published interviews with M.C. Escher, both done by journalist Israel Shenker. These publications fuelled international interest in his work, but in 1954 things really got out of hand. In September Escher had a successful International Congress of Mathematicians 1954 in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, followed by another one in the Whyte Gallery in Washington D.C. He sold 86 out of 114 prints (for over 13,000 guilders), a result never before achieved by a Dutch graphic artist in the US.
Escher visited the desolate island of Corsica several times. He was fascinated by the rock formations, the dizzying elevations, the mountain ranges, chasms, rivers, bays and coastline. He did many drawings and took many photos and his travels gave rise to a series of woodcuts, wood engravings and lithographs.
Due to the latest change of displayed works, a number of works that are part of a series can now be seen in Room 1: nine (of the 25 in total) woodcuts from the Emblemata series Escher produced in 1931. Earlier we showed you Toadstool from this series, today we focus your attention on Butterfly. In this woodcut Escher puts a butterfly in a richly ornamented palette of flowers and plants.
In September 1941 Escher started on his woodcut Fish, the first work he produced after moving to Baarn. In his diary he wrote about the process:
12 Sep: 'At night fish woodcut idea.'
13 Sep: 'Started on it.'
07 Oct: 'Started on 1st block Fish.'
16 Oct: 'Started on 2nd block Fish.'
23 Oct: 'Started on 3rd block Fish.'
The liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945 was personally as well as artistically liberating for Maurits Escher. In the second half of that year he produced Balcony, Doric Columns, Three Spheres I and a woodcut for the 'Tijdelijke Academie (Temporary Academy)' in Eindhoven. He was also working on the lithograph Magic Mirror, which would be completed in January 1946. In Three Spheres I, from September that year, he very precisely demonstrates how to evoke a three-dimensional form on a flat surface.
In September 1935 Maurits Cornelis Escher made a woodcut for his cousin Anne Escher (1895-1971), the founder and director of engineering company Ir. Escher's Constructiewerkplaatsen en Machinefabriek N.V. The company, founded in 1925, would grow into a major metalworking company, which by the 1950s had the largest factory hall in The Hague.
In 1930 the company started using stick welding. Maurits Escher used the welder with his distinctive hood for the woodcut, which was to be used as a logo for his cousin.
In December 1938 Escher received a government commission to create 10 woodcuts for a booklet on Delft. For the not insubstantial sum of 800 guilders (about €7,500 now). The commission was inspired by a series he created in 1934, called Nocturnal Rome. In the end, the book was never published, but he did produce the woodcuts. Since this series is the only one he made about a Dutch city, the outcome is rather special.
'He's an adorable, sweet and beautiful child. Definitely not a freak,'Escher wrote to his parents.
May 1954 sees Escher working on Rind. He was inspired by The Invisible Man, an 1897 science fiction novel by the British author H.G. Wells. In it, an invisible man can only be seen by means of the bandages that cover him. Escher changed the man into a woman. To find the right composition, Escher used his wife Jetta as a model. In 1954, he first carried out two studies, reaching a final result in May 1955.
Encounter, from May 1944, and Reptiles are the better-known works Escher produced during the war. He describes Encounter like this:
'Out from a grey surface of a back wall there develops a complicated pattern of white and black humanoid figures. And since people who desire to live need at least a floor to walk on, a floor has been designed for them, with a circular gap in the middle so that as much as possible can still be seen on the back wall. In this way they are forced not only to walk in a ring, but also to meet each other in the foreground: a white optimist and a black pessimist shaking hands with one another.'
After having travelled along the Italian coast on the freighter Rossini by himself, Escher’s wife Jetta joins him on 11 May 1936. They spend a day in Genoa, they visit Pisa and on 13 May they travel on to Savona. Because the ship did not stay long, Escher does not disembark. He takes a photo of a sailing boat that he sees through the porthole of his cabin.
‘This amazing, beautiful, night-time Rome, whose architecture I love so much more than I do during the day’.
On 6 March 1938 Jan Escher is born. Following George (1926) and Arthur (1928), he is the third son of Maurits and Jetta. Just as he did for Arthur, Escher created the birth announcement card himself.
In the 1920s and 1930s Escher made several long trips to Italy in search of inspiration for his work. Together with artists he befriended, he visited untouched parts of the country in spring and in summer and made drawings there. In the following winter he developed a selection of these into prints. In February 1931 he produced this lithograph of Santa Severina.
"feverish nights, lying in bed as a child, while my father read to me by the light of a half-veiled lamp in an attempt to lull me to sleep."George mentions in particular the story of ‘The Lost Princess’ which provided the inspiration for the print Castle in the Air, from January 1928. Former curator Mickey Piller explores the origins of this remarkable woodcut.