Bearing the same title as was used for the retrospective exhibition in 1968, the book De werelden van M.C. Escher (The Worlds of M.C. Escher) was launched in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague on 23 November 1971. On 10 December, the artist himself received the first copy in the Rosa Spier Huis (retirement home for Dutch artists) in Laren. Prior to this, it was already clear that the book would be a huge success. The Committee for the Collective Propaganda of the Dutch book (CPNB) had proclaimed it the ‘Book of the Month’. Publisher Meulenhoff initially aimed at 40,000 copies, but soon increased the circulation to 50,000. Yet even this revised quantity had already been sold by the time the book was available in the bookstore. Once again the number of copies was increased, this time to 75,000, but within a month these were all sold too.* For an introductory price of ƒ12.50, buyers received a book containing five introductions, a bibliography, an overview of Escher’s main exhibitions and lectures, and 270 captioned images (including eight in colour). A bargain.
In the book, Escher’s work was explained by five gentlemen: J.L. (Hans) Locher (the then curator and subsequently the director of the Gemeentemuseum), his uncle Professor G.W. Locher (who had been an avid collector of Escher’s graphic work since 1953), art historian C.H.A. Broos, mathematician H.S.M. Coxeter and Escher himself. The book was edited by Hans Locher.
The book was not only popular with the public. Critic Hans Redeker radically dismissed any doubts about Escher’s work, which some felt to be excessively rational:
‘It is in fact the artist in Escher that succeeds in conveying to us by visual means his own fascination, his obsession with the hidden laws of geometry in nature and the last questions of space and time. He does more than present us with riddles and then illustrate a formula; he also creates his own visual language to this end, his “worlds”.’ **
In tandem with the publication, the Gemeentemuseum organised a second major exhibition, with all prints reproduced in the book. Again, it drew tens of thousands of visitors. In its four branches, Dutch department store ‘De Bijenkorf’ exhibited 18 Escher reproductions and sold them for prices ranging from five to nine guilders. There was also a Bijenkorf poster with an image of Sky and Water I. Visitors were able to watch Adventures in Perception, the film about Escher made by director Han van Gelder and commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The film was also shown on TV. Rarely an artist was honored so exuberantly, in one single month.***
A day after Escher’s death on 27 March 1972, the second edition of The Worlds of M.C. Escher appeared.
[*], [**] en [***] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 508