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A tunnel of butterflies, 1944

During the war years, the volume of new prints Escher produced fell sharply. He lacked inspiration and he had other things to worry about. 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.

If you look at this series, the war seems remote. Even in those years his work is teeming with birds, fish, reptiles, frogs, insects, flowers and shells. Only with his drawing that he did during Christmas 1941, with the angels and devils, does he seem to be saying something about the bizarre situation in which the world was at that time. He also used the subject for his wooden sphere full of angels and devils that he cut in early 1942. With a bit of imagination, the last drawing from the war years, done in September 1944, can also be regarded as a metaphor. Together, the red and grey butterflies form a deep tunnel. An abyss of misery with which Escher seems to be anticipating the failure of Operation Market Garden at the end of September and the famine that would ravage the Netherlands in the winter of 1944-1945. Some extremely difficult months ensued, during which the Escher family fell on hard times too. He no longer worked between this drawing and the Liberation.

He wrote about this in his diary:

‘That was the hardest thing I ever experienced: my time was totally and utterly taken up with providing for the household; a materialism that (however ideal because it mostly concerned my family) almost drove me crazy.’

Diary 1944

Initially, Escher is still optimistic. On 31 August 1944 he notes that Paris has fallen.
Brussels followed on 3 September.

He writes that the first Allied troops enter the Netherlands on 11 September, after which they liberate Maastricht on 14 September.
On 17 September, there are air landings and on 20 September the bridge at Nijmegen falls into allied hands.

But then things go wrong. On 26 September 1944 the Allies are defeated at Arnhem, airborne troops are destroyed, 2,000 troops retreat back across the Rhine.
7 October: electric power is completely shut off.

14 October: last day of sugar!
16 October: gas completely shut off. In search of food, Escher makes his first foraging trip to Zoetermeer that week.

More Escher today