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Portrait of father Escher, 1935

On 4 July 1935 Escher and his family moved from Rome to the Swiss town Château-d’Oex, after which he travelled to the Netherlands almost straight away to arrange things for a long stay in Switzerland. From his parents’ home in The Hague he visited such people as his old teacher Jessurun de Mesquita, he consulted with his cousin Anton Escher on a logo for his machine factory, he talked to the Dutch postal service ‘PTT’ and ‘Drukkerij Enschedé’ about his design for the aviation fund stamp and he met with his friends Jan van der Does de Willebois and Bas Kist.

Between all these visits he spends three weeks working on a very detailed, loving portrait of his father. When he finally has a satisfactory preliminary study, he transfers the portrait onto a litho stone over the course of a few days. George Arnold Escher was already 92 during these sessions, but he himself made mention of it in his diary*:

30 July: ‘While I read the morning paper, Mauk begins to draw me.’
6 August: ‘Mauk keeps working, while I read the morning paper, meant for a lithograph.’
9 August: ‘I pose again.’
11 August: ‘Mauk spends a lot of time on my right hand with which I hold my reading glass.’
12 August: ‘Idem.’
20 August: ‘Mauk has drawn all day on the stone for my portrait, mainly the background.’

In his book The Graphic Work Escher would write the following about this lithograph:

‘When it comes to creating a portrait of someone with markedly asymmetrical features, a great deal of the likeness is lost in the print, for this is the mirror image of the original work. In this instance a “contraprint” was made; that is to say, while the ink of the first print was still wet on the paper, this was printed onto a second sheet, thereby annulling the mirror image. The “proof” brings out the signature that he himself wrote on the stone with lithographic chalk and which is now to be seen, doubly mirrored, back in its original form.’

The 15 prints of the lithograph were never sold. They were intended exclusively for family members. His father, brother Eddy in Brussels and brother Beer received them first. Father, who by now was walking difficultly and whose sight and hearing had deteriorated considerably, wrote**:

‘Sara [Escher’s mother, EK] accompanies him to the station, although he doesn’t like this. Before leaving, Mauk puts in my eyedrops instead of Sara and does a good job of it. Mauk is taking a print of my portrait for Eddy. On it, he can see the eye mask, which he brought for me from the Belgian seaside resort some time ago.’

By making of the portrait and administering the eyedrops, Maurits seems to be anticipating the loss of his father. But things turned out differently. He would speak to his father on multiple occasions whilst staying with his parents for several days during his Delft series in April 1939. Father Escher died less than two months later.

[*] and [**] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 178

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