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.
Last Thursday the new exhibition David Umemoto: Architect of the Impossible opened in Escher in The Palace. David Umemoto is a Canadian sculptor with a background in architecture. His mysterious sculptures of impossible buildings are exhibited side by side with the work of M.C. Escher until 9 February 2020. The printmaker has been an inspiration throughout Umemoto’s career.
In the context of our new exhibition on David Umemoto, the new works on display over the next few months will be taking architecture as their focus. One of the woodcuts currently on show is that of St. Nicholas’ Church in Ghent, a print that Escher produced on the West Flanders coast one summer.
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.