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Birth day card for Jan Greshoff

December 1938 was 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.

Escher cycled by the house himself, armed with a camera, but he was not very enthusiastic about it*:

‘It is not exacty “pretty”, but I will try and make the best of it that I can.’

The woodcut features and is a visual rendering of an eight-line poem by Greshoff, called A Rejected Visitor. The visitor is death himself in the shape of the ‘Grim Reaper’, who the poet believes has shown up too early.

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 Greshoff’s house is lit. Footsteps in the snow lead to the gate and the steps at the house from various directions. The print is also historically significant as Greshoff’s house was completely destroyed in later years.

[*] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 257

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