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Maurits Cornelis Escher
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Leeuwarden, the Netherlands
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Hilversum, the Netherlands
Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher became famous during the last decades of the 20th century for his prints depicting distortions of space and impossible architecture structures, which were widely reproduced on posters, album covers, clothing and other objects, sometimes without permission. Escher was born in 1898 in Leeuwarden, the provincial capital of Friesland, in the northern part of the Netherlands. His mother Sarah Gleichman (1860-1940) was the second wife of civil engineer George Escher (1843-1939). A descendant of a wealthy family, her inheritance supported Escher throughout his life. The family moved to Arnhem in the eastern Netherlands in1903 where Escher attended school. He was interested in mathematics and drawing and learned to make linocuts. He was a poor student, however, and failed his final high school examinations. He briefly studied architecture at the technical school in Delft in 1918, and then moved to Haarlem’s School for Architecture and Decorative Arts. Soon after starting classes, art instructor Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita (1868-1944) advised him to switch from architecture to graphic arts. Escher developed excellent printmaking skills, to the point that in 1922 de Mesquita suggested he leave school and pursue an artistic career. He began that spring with a three-month trip to Florence and northern Italy with two friends; he had a portfolio of landscape drawings when he returned to Arnhem. That fall he traveled to Spain, visited several places including the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and in November traveled by boat to Italy where he settled in Siena. Escher created landscape drawings and woodcuts, and the following year traveled to Naples and then to nearby Ravello for three months. Giuliaetta (“Jetta”) Umiker (1897-?) and her family were staying at the same Ravello hotel; her father was a German-Swiss industrialist who had owned a factory near Moscow, but left after the Russian Revolution. Escher fell in love and kept in touch with Jetta after she and her family returned to their home in Zurich. After seeing his first solo exhibition open in a Siena gallery in August, 1923, Escher visited Jetta in Zurich and became engaged the following month. The Umiker family and Escher moved to Rome later that year, and he and Jetta were married the next year. They lived in Rome until 1935, with occasional trips to Holland. Escher took annual trips around Italy each spring, making sketches on which his landscape prints were based. His prints were in several solo and group exhibitions in various cities Holland during the years he lived in Rome, and he sold prints to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum. In 1934 his lithograph “Nonza” (Locher [1982] 247) won a purchase prize in a print exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, the first entry of one of his works into an American museum. The Dutch Historical Institute in Rome organized a solo exhibition of Escher’s work later that year. In 1935 Escher, Jetta and their two young sons moved to Château-d’Oes, Switzerland, prompted by health concerns regarding their boys and the Fascist political climate in Italy. The following year Escher and Jetta took a long sea voyage along the Mediterranean Coast, which included excursions in Spain to Granada’s Alhambra Palace and the Mezquita mosque in Cordoba, both of which Escher recorded with numerous drawings. The Moorish tiles and architecture in the two buildings led to a profound change in his art. Escher became preoccupied by the theme of the regular division of planes, and his prints exhibit tessellation, the fitting together of varied but repeating geometric shapes in a puzzle-like manner with no gaps or overlaps. In 1937 Escher and his family moved to a suburb of Brussels, where he studied mathematics and crystallography, investigated symmetrical depictions of tiles and depicted concepts of infinity in his art. In 1941 the family moved to Baarn, a small town in the Netherlands near Utrecht, where Escher lived for most of the rest of his life. Escher’s works gained recognition through articles in the art journal “The Studio” and in “Time” and “Life” magazines in 1951. His work was of great interest to mathematicians, with exhibitions mounted at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in 1954 in conjunction with the International Congress of Mathematicians meeting in Amsterdam and in Cambridge, England in connection with the 1960 International Congress of Crystallography. The former exhibition traveled to the Whyte Gallery in Washington, D.C. One of his drawings appeared on the cover of the April 1961 issue of “Scientific American.” The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague put on a major retrospective of his work in 1968. Escher’s work was very popular in San Francisco during the 1960s, often appropriated without permission. “The hippies of San Francisco continue to print my work illegally,” he complained in an April 1969 letter to his son and daughter-in-law. He moved to a home for elderly artists in Laren, the Netherlands, in 1970 and died in a hospital in nearby Hilversum in 1972. (TNB 8/2017) Selected bibliography: Locher, J. L. ed. M.C. Escher, His Life and Complete Graphic Work. With a catalog by F. G. Bool, J. L. Locher and F. Wierda. Translated from the Dutch by Tony Langham and Plym Peters. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1982.