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Escher in school

In April 1952, 400 prints were made of the lithograph Contrast (Order and Chaos). By machine, due to the enormous circulation, but under the watchful eye of Escher. It was a commission from the VAEVO (Association for the promotion of the Aesthetic element in Secondary Education) that would distribute the prints to schools in the Netherlands. In this way, the youth could come into contact with his work in an accessible way.

The Netherlands has a long tradition when it comes to bringing the ‘people’ into contact with art. For example, there were organizations such as the Nederlandsche Vereeniging tot Bevordering van het Schoonheidsbeginsel in het Onderwijs (promoting the principle of beauty in education), the Vereeniging voor Schoonheid in Opvoeding en Onderwijs (beauty in education) and Kunst aan het Volk (art for the people). All were aimed at making art more widely accessible, in which way as many people as possible could enjoy it. The belief that workers should also be surrounded by beautiful design, whether it was their living environment or workplace, was strongly propagated.

This elevation of the worker was inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement, the Scandinavian teaching method Slöjd and the ideas of the British economist Arnold Toynbee (1852-1883). As a common denominator, these sources emphasized craftsmanship and self-expression through art. The VAEVO was also an association that focused on that elevation. It was founded in 1908 with the specific aim of stimulating the cultural education of young people. The association is responsible for bringing many Dutch people into contact with Escher during their school days. Please note: secondary education. According to the VAEVO, a primary school child was not ready for real art yet.

Prints in high circulation

Escher is one of the artists who has delivered prints to the association several times. This started as early as 1929 with the woodcut The Second Day of the Creation (The Division of the Waters), which Escher had made in December 1925. 300 copies were printed, considerably more than the standard VAEVO-editions. More prints would follow, always in high circulation. Up and Down in 1948, 400 pieces. Contrast (Order and Chaos) in 1952, also 400 pieces. And Three Worlds in 1956, in a huge circulation of 700 pieces. Upon the publication of these editions, Escher always made sure that a copy went to his old HBS in Arnhem. In 1966 the lithograph Belvédère followed, to be used in school classes in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. The association’s recommendation committee included the directors of the most important museums and professors in art history. And that was not unimportant to Escher.

The contact person for Escher was Mr B. Merema, secretary of the VAEVO. He and his wife M. K. Merema – Van Gestel were the driving force behind the association for many years. In 1952, the association also wanted to promote the work of Escher among students in a different way. With the help of the Polygoon in Haarlem, it made a film strip with thirty works that could be projected in schools. Escher thought it was a good idea, he wrote in a letter to Merema:

Dear Sir Merema, I can only applaud the plan to bring visual art products to young people through film strips, because I understand the advantages that this practical, modern way of illustrating offers over the old method. I am therefore happy to cooperate with it, as far as my own work is concerned. In recent years I have always given lectures about my work on the basis of lantern slides to my prints; during the projection, I tell something about the intentions and incentives that led to the design.

Introduction to the travelling collection
Article in Dutch newspaper Het Vrije Volk (11 November 1959) about the introduction projectors in schools

Travelling exhibition

In addition to its own VAEVO publications, the association also worked with a circulating collection for wall decoration, which enabled affiliated schools to have a large collection of art images in-house. The images in this traveling exhibition came in the form of large school plates and were transported in crates. After use, the collection continued to the next school. There was also a circulating collection of aesthetic educational materials, containing a varying selection of works of art that teachers in the classroom could use in their lessons. This also traveled through the country. Works by Escher were included in these crates too. The goal is nicely described in the introduction:

A collection of images for the aesthetic formation of more mature youth. In four series, each of 200 images, with business data and also with a separate descriptive text, brought together by B. Merema – teacher of art history at the Gymnasium Haganum and the Grotius Lyceum in The Hague and at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam.

In addition, the association also came up with its own book editions about artists, art movements and its own collection. She also organized exhibitions with work by students and secretary Merema gave many lectures on the importance of the artistic formation of ‘more mature youth’. At the end of the 1940s, 330 schools were affiliated with the VAEVO: 26 Gymnasia, 61 Lycea, 124 Higher Civic Schools, 40 Schools of education, 32 M.L.O. schools and 47 schools that do not fall under one of these denominators.