Escher todayHere we tap into dates from M.C. Eschers life and work, jumping through time but always in the now. All year round you can enjoy background stories, anecdotes and trivia about this fascinating artist.
One of the most wondrous prints by M.C. Escher is (Two) Doric Columns, a wood engraving in three colours that he created in August 1945, just after the liberation. After Balcony, it was the second new print that Escher produced following the euphoric days in May that year.
On July 29, 1961, the article How to read a painting (Adventures of the mind) by art historian Ernst Gombrich appears in the famous American magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Gombrich describes a number of Escher's prints in detail. The sub-heading reads: "By visual paradoxes the artist shocks the viewer into the realization that there is more to art than meets the eye." A phrase that can clearly be related to Escher. The article generated a lot of extra interest in Escher's work.
In the spring of 1931, Escher and his wife travelled together along the Amalfi coast, an area of which they both had fond memories, not least because they met there in 1923. They visited places like Vietri, Puntone, Scala, Positano, Praiano and of course Ravello. Here stood the Albergo dell Toro, the hotel where Maurits and Jetta first set eyes on one another. The town has special significance for them and is given prominence in Escher’s work too. He was particularly affected by the Moorish motifs he found in the town, including the ones in the Duomo. He did several drawings and took several photos in Ravello and the town can also be seen in a series of prints that he produced in the early 1930s. One is San Giovanni, Ravello (in Campidoglio), Ravello. A wood engraving from February 1932.
M.C. Escher experimented in various prints with transforming and converging shapes. Early examples of this are Development I (1937) and Development II (1939), Day and Night (1938), Sky and Water I (1938) and II (1938), Verbum (1942) and Metamorphosis I and II (1937 and 1939-1940). In these prints, objects and animals change from one recognisable form to another (transform) or they merge into an end form or end point (converge). He often managed to combine these two principles in a single print, for example in the wood engraving Butterflies from June 1950.
To many, Escher’s impossible buildings are the highlights of his oeuvre. These are the prints that visitors look for when they come to our museum. They stand in front of them and discuss with their family and friends what they see happening before their eyes. In that respect they really are conversation pieces. If you take ‘impossible’ in a broad sense, Up and Down, House of Stairs, Relativity, Convex and Concave, Print Gallery, Belvedere, Ascending and Descending and Waterfall can be defined as impossible buildings. But it is the last three of these that Escher himself referred to as such and which are also the ones most open to interpretation. ‘Look, see that? That’s impossible, right?’
‘I used to love Grimms’ fairy tales a lot. As a child, even as a boy, I was very moved by them. Now I’m rereading The Hobbit, by Tolkien, the journey of those dwarfs. It’s so far removed from reality. Why (gaze stripped of all playfulness) do we have to endure this miserable reality all the time? Why can’t we just play?’
Escher said this in the long interview with journalist Bibeb, printed in weekly magazine Vrij Nederland on 20 April 1968. He was known to many as a serious and straightforward artist, but this quote once again makes things less clear-cut.
French philosopher, journalist, writer and Nobel laureate Albert Camus wrote his novel The Plague in 1947. The book was a direct response to the horrors of World War II. The disease itself and its defeat are a metaphor for the fight against the Nazis, the brown plague. In the current corona crisis, war is a distant concept for most of the affected countries, but other than that the parallels between the book and the bizarre reality of 2020 are striking. Escher attentively read The Plague and other works by Camus. And it is back in the spotlight now.
During the war, Escher had other things to worry about but, after the liberation in May 1945, he released the brakes on his productivity and creativity. But the start was a difficult one. He had to get used to freedom and initially limited himself to reprinting old prints and selling them. The first creative result was the lithograph Balcony, created in July 1945.
Spring is here. It cannot be stopped by the world's problems. That is why we show you this print. A small wood engraving of 44 x 99 mm, but large in visual richness. This woodcut of a tree with birds and a squirrel is special, because it mirrors the whole image. Because of that reflection, and Escher's play with shape and residual shape and the black and white contrast, the end result is both realistic and abstract. An ode to nature in these dark times.
The Piano di Sant'Andrea is an historic site of ancient Genoa situated on top of a hill of the same name. The Piano is surrounded by the towers of the Porta Soprana. In the Middle Ages, this was the most important gateway to the city. At the foot of the towers lies the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Escher visited Genoa and the Piano di Sant'Andrea in the spring of 1936, when he (partly together with his wife Jetta) made a voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, a journey that brought him considerable pleasure, but also much inspiration. He made photos and drawings that he then developed in wood or on stone in the autumn and winter of 1936/1937. This included woodcuts featuring Venice, Ancona, the tower of Pisa and the cargo ship on which they travelled, wood engravings on Catania and Marseille and a lithograph of Nunziata on Sicily. The journey was also a source of inspiration for one of his first optical illusions: Still life and street. In February 1937 he made this woodcut of the Piano di Sant'Andrea.