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.
The Gianicolo (or Janiculum) towers above the city of Rome directly above the Trastevere district on the west side of the Tiber River. This hill offers fantastic views of the city and is a favourite destination for locals. That must have been the case for Escher as well, especially the park around the Villa Doria Pamphili. Here, in the largest public park in Rome, he was able to escape the noise and chaos of the city. It was less than a 30-minute walk from his home on Via Alessandro Poerio. He took pictures here and incorporated the view into his prints. One of them is St Peter's [seen] from the Gianicolo [Rome], from February 1935.
Development I and Development II are both prints in which Escher attempts to find a satisfactory way to express the concept of ‘infinity’. They show development, but are also part of a development. In October 1937, he showed his collection of tessellations to his brother Beer (Berend), a professor of geology, mineralogy, palaeontology and crystallography at Leiden University. Escher's collection consisted partly of copies of tessellations he had traced in the Alhambra (Granada) and La Mezquita (Cordoba) in the spring of 1936 and partly of ones he had drawn himself. He first started making tessellations some ten years earlier. In his early attempts, he carved an animal shape directly into the woodblock, after which he duplicated it on paper or fabric either mirrored or rotated.
In early February 1935 Maurits and Jetta went to Abruzzo with the Mr and Mrs Leopold, a couple they had befriended. They travelled by bus from Rome to the medieval capital of the region: Aquila. It was not that far, about 75 miles. They then travelled on to Campo Imperatore, a plateau in the Gran Sasso National Park. This, the highest mountain range of the Apennines, is one of the oldest ski areas in Italy: skiing started here in the 1920s. Escher had been planning to move to Switzerland with his family for some time, because of the rise of fascism in Italy and also because his sons’ health would benefit from the Swiss mountain air. This visit to the ski area can be seen as a taster.
The universe of M.C. Escher is governed by harmony, tranquillity, order and peace. Disharmony, unrest, disorder and war are far away. Or serve as a background for the beauty in the foreground. Consider in this regard prints like Contrast (Order and Chaos) and Crystal. Escher sees the world as an everlasting struggle between these extremes. As an artist he had the task of showing the world that order is self-evident, although it sometimes seems remote.
The Escher archive at the Kunstmuseum The Hague (formerly Gemeentemuseum) contains a small storybook from 1898, Escher’s birth year. He read from it to his sons a lot. Given the publication date, one might well imagine that his father had done the same for him. The storybook features a story that served as the inspiration for a woodcut from January 1928: Castle in the Air.
When the Escher family lived in the Swiss town Château-d'Oex, Escher befriended the painter John Paschoud. On the 6th of January 1937 they opened a collective exposition of their work in the latter's studio. In the exposition, Escher shows thirty-eight of his woodcuts and lithographs. Escher made a poster, an invitation, and an announcement card. He uses the brushes and palette of the painter and the woodblock and ink roller of the graphic artist as visual elements, supplemented by some very nice typography. During the exhibition, he also demonstrates how to make a woodcut, as can be read in his diary.
Around 1930, Escher was not a happy man. He struggled with his health, he was unable to sell his work, he had financial difficulties and he lacked inspiration. He even thought about completely ending his artistic career. It was the art historian G.J. Hoogewerff who drew him out of his dip. He was director of the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome and a connoisseur of the Dutch and Flemish old masters. He asked Escher to make a series of emblemata, so-called 'images with adages'. Hoogewerff was lyrical about Escher's work and noticed many qualities in his oeuvre that he also saw in the old masters. This led to a collaboration that would mean a lot to Escher's career.
50 years ago, on 5 December 1969, The Rolling Stones launched the album Let It Bleed. It is one of the most famous Stones albums, featuring classic songs like Gimme Shelter, Midnight Rambler and You Can't Always Get What You Want. The cover features a cake and a record player, but it could have been a print by Escher.
At the end of 1947, Escher produced a preliminary study and a print which typify how he sees the world: as an everlasting struggle between order and chaos. In his view, this was an observation of fact rather than a message or tribute to that world. He was fascinated by the regularity and inevitability of tight geometrical spatial figures, symbols of order in a chaotic world. Such figures initially appear simple and clear and yet are simultaneously mysterious and inscrutable. His half-brother, the geologist and crystallographer Prof. Dr Berend George Escher, shared his fascination, albeit from a professional point of view. Escher himself lacked a sound grasp of the underlying theories, but his naive fascination gave rise to some stunning work. From very small worlds (crystals) to very large (stars and planets). One of the prints embodying both brothers’ fascination is Crystal.