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Escher today

Here 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.

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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Left-handedness

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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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 in the Air (1928) were on display in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in April, as part of the group exhibition by artists’ association St. Lucas, which was celebrating its 50th jubilee. Escher was a member, but he would go on to cancel his membership some months later. In 1930 there was only one solo exhibition of his work. This took place in the Baarnsch Lyceum’s (now demolished) villa Waldheim in June.

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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 of the most iconic achievements of human ingenuity. A milestone commemorated in all sorts of ways.
We do not know whether M.C. Escher watched the moon landing on the night of 20 to 21 July, but it is highly likely. He has depicted the moon in his work on multiple occasions.

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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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Lone Sloane’s Relativity

Philippe Druillet, born on 28 June 1944, is known for his baroque drawings and bizarre science fiction stories. After having worked as a photographer for several years, Druillet made his debut in comics in 1966 with 'Lone Sloane, le Mystère des Abîmes', a comic book that drew inspiration from Druillet's favorite writers H.P. Lovecraft en A.E. van Vogt. Later, Druillet would design several covers for re-issues of Lovecraft's work, and a number of filmposters.

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J.R.R. Tolkien

‘Imagine being without Tolkien! The lonely evenings are the most difficult for my patience. But he helps me through them with his fantastic world of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and good wizards, contrasting with the most horrible, diabolical monsters’.

This ode to the British writer and academic John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973), who became world famous for his fantasy cycle The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the posthumously published The Silmarillion, is found in a letter dated 29 June 1962 that Escher wrote to his son George. His son Arthur had treated him to a copy of The Hobbit earlier that year, a book Escher read voraciously whilst bedridden, when reading became a useful means of escape.

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More Escher today

San Michele dei Frisoni

In June 1932, Escher was commissioned by the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome. The institute wanted to devote attention to a church whose visibility was threatened by the emerging new building sites in the capital. In the lithograph that Escher produced of this San Michele dei Frisoni (the Frisian Church),…
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Unique loan

Last week a display case was revealed at Escher in The Palace, containing a unique bequest. It was given to us by Mr and Mrs Hoogendijk-Floor. They purchased several works by M.C. Escher over the years, and these were recently bequeathed to Escher in The Palace. The works they owned…
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The Calanches of Piana

Escher was a walker and an observer. Fortunately, these two pursuits go hand in hand. In his Italian years, Escher went on a long hike every spring through areas such as the Abruzzo and Calabria, which were still quite inhospitable. While doing so, he looked around in awe and contemplated…
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