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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.

David Umemoto about Escher

Last Thursday the new exhibition David Umemoto: Architect of the Impossible opened in Escher in The Palace. David Umemoto is a Canadian sculptor with a background in architecture. His mysterious sculptures of impossible buildings are exhibited side by side with the work of M.C. Escher until 9 February 2020. The printmaker has been an inspiration throughout Umemoto’s career.

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Saint Nicholas’ Church, Ghent

Maurits, Jetta and their two sons spent July and August of 1934 in the artists’ village of Saint-Idesbald. The village is home to several museums, including that of the world-famous surrealist painter Paul Delvaux. Escher had rented a house there, together with his brother Eddy and sister-in-law Irma. During that holiday, Escher and Jetta visited Ghent, Bruges and Tournai. That same holiday Escher created a woodcut of the cathedrals of Ghent and Tournai.

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Between 1946 and 1951 Escher experimented several times with the mezzotint technique. He was fascinated by the extremely subtle gradiations of light and dark that can be achieved in it. Even before the war, he made the first plans for creating his own works. He wasn't proficient in this technique and he sought advice from fellow artists such as Jan Poortenaar and W.G. Hofker on how to handle it. Dusk (Rome), from May 1946, is his first mezzotint and Plane Filling I, from March 1951, his last. It stopped at a total of 8 mezzotints. Although he was a patient man, the technique turned out to be too laborious and time-consuming for Escher. The most striking print of the series is Eye.

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The OMG moment of Waterfall

‘The fascinating OMG moment.’ This is how, in an edition of VPRO radio show OVT (see below, Dutch only), former curator Micky Piller describes the moment in which a viewer takes a second look at Escher’s lithograph Waterfall for the second time. At first glance, we see water cascading down from a raised platform. It looks straightforward enough. But on closer inspection the viewer experiences the OMG moment, when the brain cannot make sense of what the eyes are telling it. The water is flowing upwards. Upwards?! Waterfall is the work in which Escher deceives his viewers in the most direct way.

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A love of chess

M.C. Escher loved playing chess. The strategic board game was a pleasant form of entertainment for him. Not only was he a member of several chess clubs during his life, but he also found chess a nice way to pass the time on his many boat trips.

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Flying envelopes

For commercial assignments, Escher almost always chose subjects and designs that he had tried before. Commissions were necessary evils and rarely inspired him. Not that this was a real problem. Clients chose Escher because they were familiar with his work and were keen to see certain aspects of it feature in the end product. The commission that Escher received in the summer of 1956 was a little different. In September he produced a New Year’s card for the PTT (Dutch postal service), for which he had drawn the motif in one of his notebooks with tessellations shortly before. The design, which features winged envelopes, is clearly intended for the client. For his tessellations, Escher always used living objects, such as birds, fish, insects and other critters. In that sense, the envelope was an anomaly. But by giving them wings he was nevertheless imbuing them with an animal-like quality.

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Starting in Haarlem

September 1919 was a life-changing month for Maurits Escher. His first lessons in architecture at the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem started on 6 September and on 17 September he moved to this city. It was not until moving here that the artist in him awoke, even if architecture proved to be a false start. His decision to study architecture was mainly inspired by his father, who saw his son as a future architect.

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Escher’s beard

The first Saturday of September is World Beard Day. Naturally we commemorate the occasion through M.C. Escher, a fanatic beard-wearer. One might even suggest he was a hipster well before the term was even invented. He was in his early twenties when his distinctive look started to take shape. He was a tall, skinny man with a big nose, somewhat unkempt hair and was always in a suit. And he topped this off with a pointy beard that made his appearance even more refined.

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Jurriaan Andriessen’s Time Spirit

On 23 August 1996, the composer Jurriaan Andriessen, a descendant of a well-known family of artists, died. His grandfather Willem and his father Hendrik were also composers and his brother Louis still is. His sisters Caecilia (who passed away last week) and Heleen were also active in music. His uncle Mari Andriessen was a sculptor, his uncle Nico was an architect and cousin Jurriaan was a visual artist. Although he wrote a large, varied oeuvre encompassing symphonies and other orchestral works, an opera, ballet, church and chamber music as well as film music (e.g. for Dorp aan de rivier [Village by the River] and De Aanslag [The Assault] by Fons Rademakers), his highly successful younger brother Louis would always overshadow him.

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Today is International Left-handers’ Day. A day on which M.C. Escher, as a left-hander, cannot go unmentioned. This event was created to draw attention to the inconveniences that left-handed people encounter. It was first held on 13 August 1976. On a Friday, which was a conscious choice.
Escher’s left-handedness was dealt with heavy-handedly at school. He was forced to write and draw right-handed. This was standard practice at the time. Although those corrections hardly had any effect, he later learnt to use his right hand just as well as his left one. Being ambidextrous brought him an advantage in his artistry.

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More Escher today

Summer 1930

For Escher and his sons George and Arthur, 1930 was a year of illness: the sons got pneumonia, an ear infection and whooping cough and he himself suffered from intestinal and toothache. In addition, he hardly sold anything and there were no assignments for new work. Castrovalva (1930) and Castle…
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Man on the moon

On 20 July 1969 Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon, exactly 50 years ago. He descended the stairs, set his foot on the powdery lunar surface and said: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. The Apollo 11 mission still counts as one…
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Concentric Rinds

Like an intriguing jewel on a jet-black background, the shells from this wood engraving illuminate the immense dark space behind it. Concentric Rinds is one of Escher’s most ingenious works as well as one of his most mysterious.
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