This past weekend, my arts and culture Ya Yas and I headed down to the M.C. Escher exhibit that was having its closing on Sunday at the Glenbow Gallery and Museum. When a friend turned to ask where Escher was born, I didn’t know exactly. Sad, but true. What I did remember, however, was the magic shared with students over thirty years of education every time I pointed out his work and the transformative qualities of that work. My focus was primarily about his geometric pieces, given my interest in tessellations and fractals. I realized, while perusing the exhibit, that I didn’t really share with them the earlier works of Escher, landscapes eventually becoming explorations of space and perspective in his prints. It is interesting how artists develop and grow from such a powerful experience of creating. It would be easy to say that the process of years of work is like the revealing of a much larger piece of art, that being the evolving soul of the creator.
“Maurits Cornelis, nicknamed “Mauk”, was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland, in a house that forms part of the Princessehof Ceramics Museum today. He was the youngest son of civil engineer George Arnold Escher and his second wife, Sara Gleichman. In 1903, the family moved to Arnhem, where he attended primary school and secondary school until 1918.
He was a sickly child, and was placed in a special school at the age of seven and failed the second grade. Though he excelled at drawing, his grades were generally poor. He also took carpentry and piano lessons until he was thirteen years old. 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.”
I was stunned by the precision of work on his lithographs and woodblock prints…the crisp edges and the meticulous effort. Equally impressive was this particular sampling and the prolific execution of so many technical pieces. I was thinking about my Grade Nine art teacher again…David Carlin...and the interesting inclusion of these elements in his own work. I have yet to write about my adventure to Callander, Ontario this past summer and my attendance at his exhibit. I was in awe of my teacher’s work! Stay tuned.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have enjoyed so many of Escher’s works in a single space. In my head, I had imagined the works of Escher at a larger scale, so the physicality of them was surprising.
A Chronological Biography of M. C. Escher…obtained from here, with images/notes added in.
1898, Jun 17 Maurits Cornelis Escher is born in Leeuwarden, the third son of G.A. Escher, an engineer, and his second wife, a government minister’s daughter, in the house which later becomes the Princessehof Museum.
1903 Escher’s family moves to Arnhem, Holland.
1912 – 1918 Escher attends secondary school in Arnhem.
1916 Escher completes his first graphic work, a linoleum cut in purple of his father, G.A. Escher.
1917 Escher’s family moves to Oosterbeek, Holland.
It turns out that Escher made many moves in his life and traveled extensively, many of these travels directly impacting his work through the physical experiences of the places he visited OR the people he met.
1918 – 1919 Escher attends Technical College in Delft.
1919 – 1922 Escher attends the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem; he takes lessons from S. Jessurun de Mesquita, a vitally important figure in Escher’s life and work.
1921, Mar – May Escher takes a holiday trip with parents along the French Riviera and through Italy.
1921, Nov The booklet ‘Flor de Pascua’, by A.P. van Stolk, illustrated with woodcuts by Escher, is published.
1922 Escher produces ‘Eight Heads’, a woodcut and his first regular division of the plane.
1922, Apr – Jun Escher takes trip through Northern Italy.
1922, Sep – Nov Escher travels by freighter to Tarragona; the trip continues through Spain and he makes his first visit to the Alhambra, the Moorish palace in Grenada; he travels on to Italy, where he lives from November 1922 until 1935.
1923, Mar – Jun Escher stays in Ravello, where he meets his future wife Jetta Umiker, the daughter of a Swiss industrialist, then goes back to Sienna.
1923, Aug 13-26 Escher’s first one-man exhibition is held in Sienna, ‘Circolo Artistico’.
1923, Nov Escher moves to Rome.
1924, Feb Escher’s first exhibition is held in Holland.
1924, Jun 12 Escher and Jetta are married.
1925, Oct Escher and Jetta return to Rome and live in their own home.
1926, May 2 – 16 Escher has an exhibition in Rome, ‘Gruppo Romano Incisori Artisti’.
1926, Jul 23 Escher’s first son George A. Escher is born.
1927 – 1935 Escher takes yearly spring trips through inhospitable areas of Italy.
1928, Dec 8 Escher’s second son Arthur E. Escher is born.
1929, Summer During a visit to his parents, Escher makes his first lithograph, ‘Goriano Sicoli, Abruzzi’, a mountain village in the Abruzzi.
1932 The book ‘XXIV Emblemata’, with epigrams by A.E. Drijfhout and woodcuts by Escher, is published in the summer.
1933 The book ‘De vreeselijke avonturen van Scholastica’, by Jan Walch and woodcuts by Escher, is published in the fall.
1934 Escher is awarded third prize for his lithograph ‘Nonza, Corsica’ at an exhibition in Chicago.
1934, Dec 12 – 22 Escher exhibits at the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome.
1935, May Escher travels through Sicily.
1935, July The Escher family moves to Switzerland.
1936, Apr – Jun Escher takes a sea trip along the coasts of Italy and France to Spain, he makes his second visit to the Alhambra and also visits the mosque in Cordoba, Spain. This is a pivotal point in Escher’s work – he moves from landscapes to ‘mental imagery’, the graphic works and tilings.
1937 The first ‘Metamorphosis’ is made. The Escher family moves to Brussels, Belgium.
1938, Mar 6 Escher’s third son Jan C. Escher is born.
1939, Jun 14 Escher’s father dies.
Losing a parent bears tremendous weight on a person’s heart and causes the world to look differently. This is a very significant notation. Escher loses his mother a year later.
1939, Nov – 1940, Mar Escher works on ‘Metamorphosis II’.
1940, May 10 The German’s invade the Low Countries.
1940, May 27 Escher’s mother dies.
1940 The German occupation forces the Escher’s to move to The Netherlands.
1941, Feb 20 The family moves to Baarn, Holland where Escher resides for the rest of his life. Five intarsia panels by Escher are placed in Leiden Town Hall.
1944, Feb 1 The Germans arrest Escher’s teacher, S. Jessurun de Mesquita. He is never seen again.
An excellent post to read about S. Jessurun de Mesquita can be found here
1946 Escher organizes a memorial exhibition in honor of Mesquita and begins the study of the mezzotint technique.
1951 Articles on Escher are published in ‘The Studio’ (Feb), ‘Time’ (Apr 2), and ‘Life’ (May 7) magazines.
1954 – 1961 Each year Escher makes a sea voyage to and/or from Italy.
1954, Sep Escher has a large one-man exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam on the occasion of the International Mathematical Conference. He meets Canadian professor H.S.M. Coxeter.
An excellent read about Donald Coxeter can be found here at Science.ca.
1954, Oct – Nov Escher exhibits in the Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C. Sells more than 100 prints.
1955, Feb The Escher’s move to a new home in Baarn.
1955, Apr 30 Escher is knighted, he receives the Knighthood of the Order of Oranje Nassau.
I was born only a week after Escher received his Knighthood.
1956 Escher meets Bruno Ernst.
Read about Bruno here.
1958 Early in the year Escher’s book ‘Regelmatige vlak verdeling’ (The Regular Division of the Plane), written and illustrated by Escher is published.
1959, Nov ‘Grafiek en tekeningen M.C. Escher’ (The Graphic Work of M.C. Escher) is published.
1959 Escher meets Caroline H. MacGillavry, professor of crystallography at Amsterdam University.
1960 He meets L.S. and Roger Penrose who become important in later works.
1960, Aug Escher holds an exhibition and lectures in conjunction with the Congress of the International Union of Crystallography in Cambridge, England.
1960, Aug – Oct Escher takes a sea voyage to Canada.
1960, Oct Escher lectures at MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts.
1961, Jun – Jul Escher crosses the Mediterranean by boat for the last time.
1961, Jul ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ (Jul 29) publishes an article on Escher by E.H. Gombrich.
1962, Apr Escher is admitted to hospital for an emergency operation; he takes a long time to recover.
1964, Oct 1 Escher and Jetta fly to Canada; he falls ill again and has to undergo another operation in Toronto.
1965, Mar Escher is awarded the cultural prize of the city of Hilversum.
1965, Aug ‘Symmetry Aspects of M.C. Escher’s Periodic Drawings’ by Caroline H. MacGillavry, a crystallographer, is published.
1965, Oct An article on Escher appears in the October issue of ‘Jardin des Arts’.
1966, Apr Scientific American publishes a long article on Escher in its April issue.
1967 – 1968 Escher designs ‘Metamorphosis III’ for post office in The Hague, unveiled Feb 20, 1969.
1968 Escher exhibits in Washington, D.C. (Mickelson Gallery) and The Hague (Gemeentemuseum), at the end of the year Jetta leaves for Switzerland, Escher lives on his own with a housekeeper. The Escher Foundation is set up.
1969, Jul Escher makes his last graphic work, a woodcut, ‘Snakes’.
1970 In the spring Escher is readmitted to the hospital for another major operation.
1970, Aug Escher moves to the Rosa Spier house in Laren.
1970 A film about Escher is shown at the Osaka World Fair.
1971, Dec ‘De werelden van M.C. Escher’ (The World of M.C. Escher, 1972) is published.
1972, Mar 27 Escher dies, at the age of 73, in the hospital in Hilversum.
A year after Escher’s passing, I graduated from high school.