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.
We’ve nearly reached the end of 2018. On Escher Today and our Facebook timeline we have published 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 we will keep providing…
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.