Gottfried Wilhelm Locher was born on March 23, 1908, a man whose name is barely known to the general public, but who has been of immense importance to the legacy of M.C. Escher. Locher had already completed a glorious career in anthropology, when he made a number of important contributions to this legacy. He gave lectures and wrote articles about Escher, in which he was able to interpret the richness of his art in an excellent way. He pointed to the strong contrasts in his oeuvre. Between light and dark, day and night, flat and spatial, reality and illusion, latent and manifest, far away and nearby, infinite and finite, order and chaos, reason and emotion and between head and heart. Locher saw Escher as the artist who managed to bridge the gap between art and science. Locher was also one of the first large Escher collectors. He went out on a limb for the artist, who was hardly appreciated up until the late 1950s.
Before becoming a professor, Locher worked as an anthropologist and curator. In 1946 he was appointed director of the National Museum of Ethnology. He came into contact with Escher in 1953, when he was discussing art with contemporary artists, anthropologists and archaeologists, and was presented with a book about graphic art. It contained an image of Three Spheres I, a wood engraving by Escher from 1945. Other World and Encounter were also in the book, but it was mainly the spheres that made such a big impression on Locher. He pointed out to the other participants that Escher’s work was very special. To this fact the attendees admittedly agreed, but they were also convinced that Escher was too cerebral to be considered real art. Locher has fought tirelessly against this image and the idea that an artist should not use his brain too much.
In 1955 he moved from the National Museum of Ethnology to the University of Leiden to work as a professor of cultural anthropology. Shortly beforehand, he started collecting work by Escher, as a substitute for (as he claimed in his contribution to The Worlds of M.C. Escher) collecting for the museum.
After their encounter in 1955 Escher wrote about Locher in a letter to his son Arthur:
Out of pure enthusiasm, this Locher gives lectures about my prints and compares them to certain Asian art forms. He is unmarried, not rich, so he claims, but buys just about everything I make. A weird but nice guy.
It was a time in which the work of the graphic artist was still affordable. At Catawiki, a handwritten invoice from Escher to Locher was auctioned in 2015, with prices for the lithograph Predestination, the wood engraving Three Spheres I and the woodcut Puddle. They cost Locher 50, 40 and 55 guilders respectively. When Escher wrote that invoice on July 2, 1954, he had no idea how much his work would be worth years later.
G.W. Locher was not the only Locher who was important to Escher’s legacy. His cousin J.L. (Hans) Locher was also a fanatic collector, as curator of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. He was also co-organizer of the major retrospective exhibition about Escher in that museum in 1968. Locher became acquainted with Escher at a young age. In 1954, as a 16-year-old boy, he and his uncle Gottfried saw the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam that was held on the occasion of the International Mathematical Congress. He also saw work by Escher in a number of group exhibitions in which other graphic artists also exhibited. In 1981, he was editor-in-chief of M.C. Escher, His Life and Complete Graphic Work, the standard work that was published by Meulenhoff. In this way he has contributed a lot to the knowledge and visibility of Escher. More about Hans Locher in an Escher Today later this year.