Maurits Cornelis Escher (17 June 1898 – 27 March
1972), usually referred to as
M.C.
Escher ( , ), was a
Dutch graphic
artist. He is known for his often
mathematically inspired
woodcuts,
lithographs,
and
mezzotints. These feature
impossible constructions, explorations of
infinity,
architecture, and
tessellations.
Early life
Maurits
Cornelis, nicknamed "Mauk", was born in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. He was the youngest son of
civil engineer George Arnold Escher and his second
wife, Sara Gleichman. He was a sickly child, and was placed in a
special school at the age of seven and failed the second grade.
In 1903,
the family moved to Arnhem where he
took carpentry and piano lessons until he
was thirteen years old.
From 1903 until 1918 he attended
primary school and
secondary school. Though he excelled at
drawing, his grades were generally poor.
In 1919, Escher
attended the Haarlem School of
Architecture and Decorative Arts. He briefly studied
architecture, but he failed a number of
subjects (partly due to a persistent skin infection) and switched
to
decorative arts. Here he studied
under
Samuel Jessurun de
Mesquita, with whom he would remain friends for years. In 1922
Escher left the school, having gained experience in drawing and
making
woodcuts.
Later life
In 1922,
an important year of his life, Escher traveled through Italy (Florence, San Gimignano, Volterra, Siena) and
Spain (Madrid, Toledo, Granada).
He was
impressed by the Italian countryside and by the Alhambra, a fourteenth-century Moorish castle in Granada, Spain. He came
back to Italy regularly in the following years. In Italy he met
Jetta Umiker, whom he married in 1924.
The young couple
settled down in Rome and stayed
there until 1935, when the political climate under Mussolini became unbearable. Their
son, Giorgio Arnaldo Escher, named after his grandfather, was born
in Rome.
The family next moved to Château-d'Œx, Switzerland where they remained for two years.
Escher,
who had been very fond of and inspired by the landscapes in
Italy, was decidedly unhappy in Switzerland, so in 1937, the family moved again, to Ukkel, a small
town near Brussels, Belgium.
World War II forced them to move in January
1941, this time to Baarn, the
Netherlands, where Escher lived until 1970. Most of
Escher's better-known pictures date from this period.
The sometimes cloudy,
cold, wet weather of the Netherlands allowed him to focus intently on his works, and
only during 1962, when he underwent surgery, was there a time when
no new images were created.
Escher
moved to the Rosa Spier house in Laren in 1970, a
retirement home for artists where he had his own studio. He
died at the home on 27 March 1972, at age 73.
Works
Escher's first print of an impossible reality was
Still Life and Street, 1937. His
artistic expression was created from images in his mind, rather
than directly from observations and travels to other countries.
Well known examples of his work also include
Drawing Hands, a work in which two hands
are shown, each drawing the other;
Sky
and Water, in which light plays on shadow to
morph the water background behind fish figures into
bird figures on a sky background; and
Ascending and Descending, in
which lines of people ascend and descend stairs in an infinite
loop, on a construction which is impossible to build and possible
to draw only by taking advantage of
quirks of perception and
perspective.
He worked primarily in the media of
lithographs and
woodcuts, though the few
mezzotints he made are considered to be
masterpieces of the technique. In his graphic art, he portrayed
mathematical relationships among shapes, figures and space.
Additionally, he explored interlocking figures using black and
white to enhance different dimensions. Integrated into his prints
were mirror images of cones, spheres, cubes, rings and
spirals.
In addition to sketching landscape and nature in his early years,
he also sketched insects, which frequently appeared in his later
work. His first artistic work, completed in 1922, featured eight
human heads divided in different planes.
Later around 1924, he
lost interest in "regular division" of planes, and turned to
sketching landscapes in Italy with
irregular perspectives that are impossible in natural
form.
Although Escher did not have mathematical training—his
understanding of mathematics was largely visual and
intuitive—Escher's work had a strong mathematical component, and
more than a few of the worlds which he drew are built around
impossible objects such as the
Necker cube and the
Penrose triangle. Many of Escher's works
employed repeated tilings called
tessellations. Escher's artwork is especially
well-liked by
mathematicians and
scientists, who enjoy his use of
polyhedra and
geometric
distortions. For example, in
Gravity, multi-colored
turtles poke their heads out of a
stellated dodecahedron.
The
mathematical influence in his work emerged around 1936, when he was
journeying the Mediterranean with the Adria Shipping Company.
Specifically, he became interested in order and
symmetry. Escher described his journey through the
Mediterranean as "the richest source of inspiration I have ever
tapped."
After his
journey to the Alhambra, Escher tried to improve upon the art works of the
Moors using geometric grids as the basis for
his sketches, which he then overlaid with additional designs,
mainly animals such as birds and lions.
His first study of mathematics, which would later lead to its
incorporation into his art works, began with
George Pólya's academic paper on plane
symmetry groups sent to him by his
brother
Berend. This paper
inspired him to learn the concept of the 17
wallpaper groups (plane symmetry groups).
Utilizing this mathematical concept, Escher created periodic
tilings with 43 colored drawings of different types of symmetry.
From this point on he developed a mathematical approach to
expressions of symmetry in his art works. Starting in 1937, he
created
woodcuts using the concept of the
17 plane symmetry groups.
Circle Limit III, 1959
In 1941, Escher wrote his first paper, now publicly recognized,
called
Regular Division of the Plane with Asymmetric Congruent
Polygons, which detailed his mathematical approach to artwork
creation. His intention in writing this was to aid himself in
integrating mathematics into art. Escher is considered a research
mathematician of his time because of his documentation with this
paper. In it, he studied color based division, and developed a
system of categorizing combinations of shape, color and symmetrical
properties. By studying these areas, he explored an area that later
mathematicians labeled
crystallography.
Around 1956, Escher explored the concept of representing infinity
on a two-dimensional plane.
Discussions with Canadian mathematician H.S.M. Coxeter inspired Escher's
interest in hyperbolic tessellations, which are regular tilings of
the
hyperbolic plane. Escher's
works
Circle Limit I–IV demonstrate this concept. In 1995,
Coxeter verified that Escher had achieved mathematical perfection
in his etchings in a published paper. Coxeter wrote, "Escher got it
absolutely right to the millimeter."
His works brought him fame: he was awarded the Knighthood of the
Order of Orange Nassau in
1955. Subsequently he regularly designed art for dignitaries around
the world. An asteroid,
4444 Escher, was
named in his honour in 1985.
In 1958, he published a paper called
Regular Division of the
Plane, in which he described the systematic buildup of
mathematical designs in his artworks. He emphasized, "
Mathematicians have opened the gate leading
to an extensive domain."
Overall, his early love of
Roman and
Italian landscapes and of nature led to his interest in the concept
of regular division of a plane, which he applied in over 150
colored works. Other mathematical principles evidenced in his works
include the superposition of a hyperbolic plane on a fixed
2-dimensional plane, and the incorporation of three-dimensional
objects such as spheres, columns and cubes into his works. For
example, in a print called "
Reptiles," he combined two and
three-dimensional images. In one of his papers, Escher emphasized
the importance of dimensionality and described himself as
"irritated" by flat shapes: "I make them come out of the
plane."
Escher also studied the mathematical concepts of
topology. He learned additional concepts in
mathematics from the British mathematician
Roger Penrose. From this knowledge he created
Waterfall and
Up and Down, featuring irregular
perspectives similar to the concept of the
Möbius strip.
Escher printed
Metamorphosis
I in 1937, which was a beginning part of a series of
designs that told a story through the use of pictures. These works
demonstrated a culmination of Escher's skills to incorporate
mathematics into art. In
Metamorphosis I, he transformed
convex polygons into regular patterns
in a plane to form a human motif. This effect symbolizes his change
of interest from landscape and nature to regular division of a
plane.
One of his most notable works is the piece
Metamorphosis III, which is wide
enough to cover all the walls in a room, and then loop back onto
itself.
After 1953, Escher became a lecturer at many organizations. A
planned series of lectures in
North
America in 1962 was cancelled due to an illness, but the
illustrations and text for the lectures, written out in full by
Escher, were later published as part of the book
Escher on
Escher. In July 1969 he finished his last work, a woodcut
called
Snakes, in
which snakes wind through a pattern of linked rings which fade to
infinity toward both the center and the edge of a circle.
Escher's legacy
Ownership of the Escher intellectual property and of his unique art
works have been separated from each other.
In 1969, Escher's business advisor, Jan W. Vermeulen, author of a
biography in Dutch on the artist, established the M.C. Escher
Stichting (M.C. Escher Foundation), and transferred into this
entity virtually all of Escher's unique work as well as hundreds of
his original prints. These works were lent by the Foundation to the
Hague Museum. Upon Escher's death, his three sons dissolved the
Foundation, and they became partners in the ownership of the art
works. In 1980, this holding was sold to an American art dealer and
the Hague Museum. The Museum obtained all of the documentation and
the smaller portion of the art works.
The copyrights remained the possession of the three sons - who
later sold them to Cordon Art, a Dutch company. Control of the
copyrights was subsequently transferred to The M.C. Escher Company
B.V. of Baarn, Netherlands, which licenses use of the copyrights on
all of Escher's art and on his spoken and written text, and also
controls the trademarks. Filing of the trademark "M.C. Escher" in
the United States was opposed, but the Dutch company prevailed in
the courts on the grounds that an artist or his heirs have a right
to trademark his name.
A related entity, the M.C. Escher Foundation of Baarn, promotes
Escher's work by organizing exhibitions, publishing books and
producing films about his life and work.
The primary institutional collections of original works by M.C.
Escher
are the Escher
Museum, a subsidiary of the Haags Gemeentemuseum in The
Hague; the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC); the National
Gallery of Canada (Ottawa); the Israel Museum (Jerusalem); Huis ten Bosch (Nagasaki, Japan); and the Boston
Public Library.
Selected works
- Trees, ink (1920)
- St. Bavo's, Haarlem, ink (1920)
- Flor de Pascua (The Easter Flower), woodcut/book illustrations (1921)
- Eight Heads, woodcut
(1922)
- Dolphins also
known as Dolphins in Phosphorescent Sea, woodcut (1923)
- Tower of
Babel, woodcut (1928)
- Street in Scanno, Abruzzi, lithograph (1930)
- Castrovalva,
lithograph (1930)
- The Bridge,
lithograph (1930)
- Palizzi, Calabria, woodcut
(1930)
- Pentedattilo, Calabria, lithograph (1930)
- Atrani, Coast of
Amalfi, lithograph (1931)
- Ravello and the Coast of Amalfi, lithograph (1931)
- Covered Alley in Atrani, Coast of Amalfi, wood
engraving (1931)
- Phosphorescent Sea, lithograph (1933)
- Still Life with
Spherical Mirror, lithograph
(1934)
- Hand with Reflecting
Sphere also known as Self-Portrait in Spherical
Mirror, lithograph (1935)
- Inside St. Peter's, wood engraving (1935)
- Portrait of G.A. Escher, lithograph (1935)
- “Hell”, lithograph, (copied
from a painting by Hieronymus
Bosch) (1935)
- Regular Division
of the Plane, series of drawings that continued until the
1960s (1936)
- Still Life and
Street (his first impossible reality), woodcut (1937)
- Metamorphosis I,
woodcut (1937)
- Day and Night, woodcut
(1938)
- Cycle, lithograph
(1938)
- Sky and Water I,
woodcut (1938)
- Sky and Water II,
lithograph (1938)
- Metamorphosis II,
woodcut (1939–1940)
- Verbum (Earth, Sky and Water), lithograph (1942)
- Reptiles,
lithograph (1943)
- Ant, lithograph (1943)
- Encounter, lithograph
(1944)
- Doric Columns, wood engraving (1945)
- Three Spheres I, wood engraving (1945)
- Magic
Mirror, lithograph (1946)
- Three Spheres II,
lithograph (1946)
- Another World Mezzotint also known as Other World
Gallery, mezzotint (1946)
- Eye, mezzotint (1946)
- Another
World also known as Other World, wood engraving
and woodcut (1947)
- Crystal, mezzotint
(1947)
- Up and Down also known as High and Low,
lithograph (1947)
- Drawing Hands, lithograph (1948)
- Dewdrop, mezzotint
(1948)
- Stars, wood
engraving (1948)
- Double Planetoid, wood engraving (1949)
- Order and Chaos (Contrast), lithograph (1950)
- Rippled Surface, woodcut and
linoleum cut (1950)
- Curl-up, lithograph (1951)
- House of Stairs,
lithograph (1951)
- House of Stairs II, lithograph (1951)
- Puddle, woodcut (1952)
- Gravitation,
(1952)
- Dragon, woodcut lithograph and watercolor (1952)
- Cubic Space Division, lithograph (1952)
- Relativity,
lithograph (1953)
- Tetrahedral Planetoid, woodcut
(1954)
- Compass Rose (Order and Chaos II), lithograph (1955)
- Convex and Concave,
lithograph (1955)
- Three Worlds, lithograph (1955)
- Print Gallery, lithograph
(1956)
- Mosaic II, lithograph
(1957)
- Cube with Magic
Ribbons, lithograph (1957)
- Belvedere,
lithograph (1958)
- Sphere Spirals, woodcut
(1958)
- Ascending and
Descending, lithograph
(1960)
- Waterfall,
lithograph (1961)
- Möbius Strip II (Red Ants) woodcut (1963)
- Knot, pencil and crayon (1966)
- Metamorphosis III,
woodcut (1967–1968)
- Snakes, woodcut (1969)
See also
Notes
- "We named him Maurits Cornelis after S.'s [Sara's] beloved
uncle Van Hall, and called him 'Mauk' for short ....", Diary of
Escher's father, quoted in M. C. Escher: His Life and Complete
Graphic Work, Abradale Press, 1981, p. 9.
References
- M.C. Escher, The Graphic Work of M.C. Escher,
Ballantine, 1971. Includes Escher's own commentary.
- M.C. Escher, The Fantastic World of M.C.
Escher, Video collection of examples of the development of
his art, and interviews, Director, Michele Emmer.
- Locher, J.L. (2000). The Magic of M. C.
Escher. Harry N.
Abrams, Inc. ISBN
0-8109-6720-0.
- Ernst, Bruno; Escher, M.C. (1995). The Magic Mirror of
M.C. Escher (Taschen Series). TASCHEN America Llc.
ISBN 1-886155-00-3 Escher's art with commentary by Ernst on
Escher's life and art, including several pages on his use of
polyhedra.
- Abrams (1995). The M.C. Escher Sticker Book.
Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-2638-5 .
- "Escher, M. C.." The World Book Encyclopedia. 10th ed.
2001.
- O'Connor, J. J. "Escher." Escher. 01 2000. University of St
Andrews, Scotland. 17 June 2005.
http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Escher.html.
- Schattschneider, Doris and Walker, Wallace. M.
C. Escher Kaleidocycles, Pomegranate
Communications; Petaluma, California, 1987. ISBN
0-906212-28-6.
- Schattschneider, Doris. M.C. Escher : visions of
symmetry, New York, N.Y. : Harry N. Abrams, 2004. ISBN
0-8109-4308-5.
- M.C. Escher's legacy: a centennial
celebration; collection of articles coming from the M.C.
Escher Centennial Conference, Rome, 1998 / Doris Schattschneider,
Michele Emmer (editors). Berlin; London: Springer-Verlag, 2003.
ISBN 3-540-42458-X (alk. paper), ISBN 3-540-42458-X (hbk).
- M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic
Work, edited by J. L. Locher, Amsterdam 1981.
External links