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Magic Mirror

The liberation of May 1945 had a redeeming effect on all Dutch people who had suffered under five years of German occupation. The euphoria was enormous, and even Maurits Escher was swept up in it. On 7 May, in strong contrast to his usually reserved character, he stood cheering out loud on the street called Brink, where thousands of other residents of Baarn had gathered. After years of forced abstinence, he and Jetta threw themselves into a buffet of art, going out and enjoying good food. Work was not easy at first. He therefore limited himself to printing old works. As he wrote to Hein ’s-Gravesande:

‘A woodcut is more difficult than ever before—my brain seems to be completely addled, but at least I am doing something again. I cannot tell you how elated I feel that I have been able to more than get by financially over the last couple of months. My situation has not been like this before. But I am not laboring under any illusions — I am benefiting from two circumstances: firstly, there are no new books out yet; and secondly, people are apparently so wary about the impending fiscal measures and currency reform that they would rather invest their cash in prints.’*

In 1945 Escher sold 124 woodcuts and lithographs for a total amount of 3,244.67 guilders.** And after a hesitant start, his creativity soared too. His spell of having an ‘addled brain’ had already come to an end in July when he completed the lithograph Balcony. Over the next few months he also produced Doric Columns, Three Spheres I and a woodcut for the Tijdelijke Academie in Eindhoven.

In January 1946 he completed a large lithograph, which is the most enigmatic of this series: Magic Mirror. The title matches the description he gave of it in a letter to ’s-Gravesande. It centres on a transition from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional representation. Winged lions in a black and white series form each other’s glide reflections. In the middle, this animal is being born from a vertically positioned mirror. More and more keeps emerging from the mirror, until it has completely detached itself from its mirror image. In an arc, the animal then returns to the mirror, doubling twice during the course of the journey and eventually going up into a horizontal tessellation. So far, the print is a bit like Reptiles and Encounter, the lithographs he produced in 1943 and 1944. But the addition of the mirror creates an additional layer, with Escher not only showing the mirror image itself but also allowing the animals to exist in the space behind the mirror. The mirror here functions as a window too, a transparent surface that you can see through. Escher himself described it in a lecture as if the mythical creature can ‘transpose its reflections into reality’. This creates two arched processions. The sphere—which can be seen both in front of and behind the mirror, but can also be seen as a reflection—reinforces the alienating effect. The technique of allowing a transparent surface to simultaneously be a mirror was one Escher would use again in Three Worlds. There, however, the effect is much more natural. He uses the properties of a pond to show both the reflection and the image behind it.

Because the lions in Magic Mirror converge in the middle, the form also resembles the Möbius bands that he would create years later and a lemniscate, the symbol of infinity. The inspiration for this print came from the second part of Alice in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, one of Escher’s favourite writers. In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), Alice stands in front of a mirror that shows her reflection but is also a gateway to another world

Illustration for Through the Looking glass by John Tenniel (colourized version)
Illustration for Through the Looking glass by John Tenniel


[*] and [**] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 297

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