On 7 June 1968 ‘De werelden van Escher‘ (‘The Worlds of M.C. Escher’), the first Dutch retrospective exhibition of M.C. Escher, opened in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. It marked the occasion of Escher’s 70th birthday, on 17 June. It certainly wasn’t his first exhibition, but it was the first time an important art museum, of its own accord, was exhibiting a retrospective of his work, approached from both an art-historical perspective and Escher’s personal systematics.
The opening was a hugely successful evening. Escher and his wife Jetta had been driven to this festive occasion by their son Jan. The auditorium was completely packed and more than 100 people were eagerly waiting to get in outside. Escher was honoured with speeches and gave a short lecture, accompanied by slides, himself. Tens of thousands of visitors attended the exhibition, thanks in part to the bold exhibition poster (featuring a picture of Another World) and a long interview in magazine Vrij Nederland on 20 April. More copies of the exhibition catalogue swiftly had to be printed and Escher was interviewed by many Dutch and international journalists.* The reviews were unanimously positive and showed that the authors had really immersed themselves in Escher’s work.
Dutch newspaper NRC:
“The structure of the exhibition, which enables a multifaceted approach to Escher’s work, is one of a kind, just as Escher himself is unique. It would be very hard to find another artist on whom one could organise such an exhibition. Any true lover and connoisseur of the graphic profession has no choice but to admire him, if need be while dismissing his cerebral side. His technical control of the woodcut, the wood engraving and the lithograph are masterful in a purely artistic sense. It really is impossible to decide on key works. His themes and the problems they face may change often, but from an artistic perspective the quality of the design is pretty much always of the same calibre.”
And in newspaper de Volkskrant:
“A man of science feels a sense of awe, seeks to understand, proceeds to analyse; an artist feels a sense of wonder, allows the object of that wonder to rest in his open hand and transforms it into a inspired image. The rare thing about Escher is that his wonder stems from the highest order, a crystal, and that it confirms and explains this order artistically and visually. Out of this encounter an artistic life’s work has grown which is decidedly unique in the world.”
He had to turn 70 to get there, but Escher was finally being taken seriously as a graphic artist by a large audience.
A selection of Dutch newspaper articles that appeared in response to the exhibition.
[*] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, p. 480