Escher, M. C.

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

The Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher was famous for his prints that fooled the eye and intrigued the mind. His work is unique in modern art.

Escher was born on June 17, 1898, in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. He first studied architecture at the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem. While there, he became more interested in printmaking. In 1924, Escher married Jetta Umiker and the couple settled in Rome, Italy. In 1935, political turmoil forced the Eschers to move first to Switzerland and then to Belgium. In 1941 they moved to Baarn, the Netherlands.

While he lived in Italy, Escher often depicted Rome and the Italian countryside in his art. Afterward, his interest shifted from landscape to what he described as "mental imagery." These new works were partly inspired by tiles he found on Moorish architecture in Granada, Spain. Escher used the tiles' flattened patterns of interlocking shapes. But he replaced the abstract Moorish decorations with recognizable figures (such as fish, birds, and reptiles). The woodcut Day and Night (1938) was one of his first works to demonstrate this technique. Escher also used this technique in his famous Metamorphose III (1967-68). This work features a series of interlocking shapes and figures that continually change over the woodcut's 23-foot (7-meter) length.

Some prints by Escher depict buildings and staircases that appear to be realistically drawn but are actually optical illusions. Examples include the lithographs Belvadere (1958) and Ascending and Descending (1960). Other prints depict flat, two-dimensional drawings that seem to transform into three-dimensional objects. In the lithograph Drawing Hands (1948), for example, two hands appear to rise off the paper as they draw each other.

Escher gained international fame beginning in the 1950's. Magazine articles were written about him, and he lectured about the design and meaning of his art. Escher made his last print (the woodcut Snakes) in 1969. He died on March 27, 1972, in Hilversum, the Netherlands.

Gregory D. Jecmen
Assistant Curator
Department of Old Master Prints
National Gallery of Art

 

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