**Maurits Cornelis Escher** (17 June 1898 – 27 March 1972), usually referred to as

**M.C. Escher** (

English pronunciation: /ˈɛʃər/,

Dutch: [ˈmʌurɪts kɔrˈneːlɪs ˈɛʃər] ( listen)),

^{[1]} 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",

^{[2]} was born in

Leeuwarden, The

Netherlands, 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.

^{[3]} 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.

^{[3]} 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,

Ravello) 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.

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.

## Legacy

The special way of thinking and the rich graphic work of M.C. Escher has had a

continuous influence in science and art, as well as

references in pop culture. 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)

## [edit] See also

**^** *Duden Aussprachewörterbuch* (6 ed.). Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F.A. Brockhaus AG. 2005. ISBN 3-411-04066-1.
**^** "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.
- ^
^{a} ^{b} Barbara E, PhD. Bryden. *Sundial: Theoretical Relationships Between Psychological Type, Talent, And Disease*. Gainesville, Fla: Center for Applications of Psychological Type. ISBN 0-935652-46-9.

## 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