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 lives didn't intersect, the author and the artist have a lot in common. Both were frighteningly thin, both were addicted to lang walks, both were obsessed by documenting their daily life, both were mad about chess and intrigued by game elements and using these in their work.
Escher was fascinated by the mirrors and the toying with perspective in the Alice books. Scientific journalist Martin Gardner, author of The Annoted Alice, brought the two together. Escher corresponded with him about mathematical elements in his work and the similarities with Lewis Carroll. Douglas R. Hofstadter saw them too and to his famous Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid he gave a fitting subtitle: A metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll.
The dazzling print Other World belongs to Eschers masterpieces. Rightly so. He created this combination of woodcut and wood engraving in January 1947. It's like looking trough 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. He enforces these views with a suspended horn and the bird Simurgh (a mythical creature from ancient Persia) in the windows. In a continous struggle each perspective tries to grab the attention of your brain. Battling for priority, never resulting in a winner. It's a beautiful example of Escher's power to play with perspective and with the expectations of his public.
You can read more about Other World and it's predecessor Gallery in this story by former curator Micky Piller.
The first post this year: a skull. Not the most obvious choice but for Escher it's not so strange. He created several skulls and skeletons. Stand-alone works but also as part of a poster or a bookplate. This is the first one, from January 1917. Maurits is 18 and he's fascinated by this symbol of mortality. In his youth specifically it kept him occupied, which is not that strange for a brooding adolescent. Escher was a very serious young man. He loved poetry and photography and he had a large affinity for music and the stage. He played the violin in a string quartet and he could really loose himself in the organ concerts that were given in the Sint-Bavo church in Haarlem. With his friends he read (in German) the Russian novels by Poesjkin, Gogol, Andrejev and Dostojevski. In this setting a skull fits nicely.
We've reached the end of 2017. On Facebook 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 Eschers favorite season, although this time of the year was his most productive one. He had to, he couldn't really go anywhere. For years he would travel during spring and summer and these trips would bring him inspiration for his graphical work. During autumn and winter he would use his travel drawings and photo's for new woodcuts, wood engravings and lithographs. But the cold and the snow, which belonged to these winter months, didn't appeal to him much.
This was especially true for his years in Switzerland. There, winter presented itself with all it's force. During the winters of 1935 and 1936 his house in Cháteau-d'Oex was surrounded by white walls and snow-capped mountains. But his sons loved it. During their first Swiss winter Escher made this photo in which George and Arthur are playing with their sleds in front of the house.
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 Greshof, who also lived in Brussels. For his fiftieth birthday on 15 December 1938 Greshofs friends offered him this woodcut, showing a wintry Brussels with his own house as a shiny beacon. Escher cycled by the house himself, armed with a camera, but he wasn't very enthusiastic about it:
It's not exacty 'pretty', but i'll try to make of it what is to make of it.
The woodcut features and translates visually an eight line poem by Greshof, called 'A rejected visitor'. The visitor is death himself in the shape of 'Mister Reaper', who shows up too early according to the poet. The poem has a message about friends who celebrate life, are generous to each other and will never harm a member of this group living in a foreign land. The woodcut depicts a row of houses in a wintry street, of which only Greshofs house is lit. From several directions footsteps in the snow lead to the gate and the flight of steps at the house. This print is also historically significant while Greshofs house was destroyed completely in later years.
On 12 December 1934 the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome hosted the opening of an exhibition with paintings and drawings by Otto B. Kat and woodcuts and lithographs by M.C. Escher. Despite the rainy conditions, the interest in the opening was huge. The grip of fascism on Italian society became stronger every day and this exhibition seemed to be used by many as counterbalance. Worldly as well as religious authorities were present, as were several directors of foreign institutions, museum directors, artists and critics. Dutch media wrote about it with eagerness, resulting in publications in 'de Telegraaf', 'De Tijd', 'De Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant' and the 'Algemeen Handelsblad'. All Dutch newspapers used reproductions of Escher in their pages.
The Italian Osservatore Romano dedicated a large article to the exhibition with a two column reproduction of Nocturnal Rome: Small Churches, Piazza Venezia. Escher created this wood engraving in March 1934. A month later Mussolini would address a large crowd here, from the balcony at the Palazzo Venezia.
On 8 December 1928 Arthur Eduard Escher was born, the second son to 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 made a woodcut dedicated to the birth. He also made photos of the newborn and his brother.
Arthur was baptised by father Constanza, who did the same for George two years before. In Eschers baptism photo Jettas mother cradles her grandson. In the backgrounds prints of Eschers latest woodcut can be seen: The submerged cathedral
From the works which are on view now, after the latest change, we choose a second one: a woodcut from August 1934 depicting the cathedral at Tournai (Doornik, Belgium). The Escher family (still living in Rome) spent that summer on the West-Flemish coast. With his brother Eddy and sister-in-law Irma, Escher had rented a house in the village of Sint-Idesbald. Sheltered by dunes it was a spot in which also the Dutch writer Willem Elschot (1882-1960) used to spend his summer holidays and sundays. This holiday proved to be a precursor to a longer stay in Belgium. After two years in Switzerland the family would move to Ukkel (Brussels) in the summer of 1937.
During their 1934 holiday Escher and Jetta visited Gent, Bruges and Tournai. Escher would use the cathedrals at Bruges and Tournai that same summer as a subject for two new woodcuts. The one at Tournai dominates the skyline of the city in his woodcut. The distinctive five Roman towers loom above the surrounding buildings. The work proved to be of historic significance: in it the city, which was founded by the Romans, is still untouched. In May 1940 German bombardments would destroy many of the old buildings.
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 seems so alien to the earthly and severe artist. The series begin with the wood engraving Stars in which two chameleons are locked in a system of regular octahedrons.
This was followed by Double Planetoid in 1949 and Tetrahedral Planetoid in 1954. Two amazing works in which Escher creates a complete alien civilisation. With these science fiction worlds Escher explores the possibility of, as he puts it, combining different sources of gravity and perspectives in a visually credible way. Depicting these multiple sources of gravity in an extraterrestrial setting makes them seem more logical and more easily conceivable.
On Double Planetoid he writes:
"Two regular tetrahedrons, piercing each other, float through space as a planetoid. The light-coloured one is inhabited by human beings who have completely transformed their region into a complex of houses, bridges and roads. The darker tetrahedron has remained in its natural state, with rocks, on which plants and prehistoric animals live. The two bodies fit together to make a whole but they have no knowledge of each other."
In this series Escher makes the impossible acceptable and visible in a completely logical way. Read more about this and other celestial bodies in the story Gravity.