In October 1939, while Europe stood on the brink of World War II, Escher started working on his big Metamorphosis II (19.5 x 400 cm). He worked on it continuously for nearly six months. During these months he wrote several letters to his friend Hein ’s-Gravezande* that make manifest his obsession with this woodcut. He wrote detailed accounts of his intentions and working methods and he extemporised on the possible meaning of the colours, the fish, the bees, the birds and the (Saracen?) tower.
But he had another thought-provoking idea about it:
‘I would love to express my metamorphosis and associative mania in an animated film. I believe that animated films will be of great value in the future as a means of artistic expression, in which more profound ideas will be expressed than those of Snow White and Micky (though I do not have any disdain for these products; on the contrary, I admire Disney’s talent!). I do often dream, though, about the film I would like to make.’
The thought that Escher might, by his own hand, have produced an animated film is exciting. Countless animated films have since been made, ranging from professional films to lovingly made amateur productions. An animated film in which Escher scrutinised his own themes, using movement while the suggestion of eternity and infinity remains intact. We will never know what this graphic artist’s dream would have looked like.
On March 2, 1940, he delivered the good news to ‘s-Gravezande, but he also immediately expressed his doubts about the commercial opportunities of the print:
‘Metamorphosis ready. It goes without saying that I would be thrilled if I could find a publisher for it. That does not alter the fact that I am convinced of myself that it will not work: it is inconceivable that there would ever be a number of interested parties large enough to motivate a publication. ‘
He proved to be right. Publishers Van Dishoeck and Boucher both informed him that they saw no possibilities for the publication of Metamorphosis. On March 17, 1940, Escher again explained his working method:
To save material (to reduce costs) I cut almost all of the blocks on two sides; they are made of pear wood of 5 mm; by working them on both sides they look like lace work: they have big holes in them! This was an experiment: the longest and most extensive experiment I have ever undertaken.