M.C. Escher is one of the world’s most famous graphic artists. He represents the perfect coming together of mathematics and art. Although he is most known for his impossible constructions, he also created some wonderful realistic graphic art. Here are 10 interesting facts about the life and art of this revolutionary Dutch artist.
#1 His full name is Maurits Cornelis Escher and he was left-handed
Born on 17 June 1898 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Maurits Cornelis Escher was the youngest son of civil engineer George Arnold Escher and his second wife, Sara Gleichman. Like great artists Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Durer, M.C. Escher was also left handed. Five years after his birth the Escher family moved to Arnhem, where Maurits spent most of his youth. He used to be ill often and was placed in a special school. Although he excelled in drawing, his other grades were generally poor.
#2 Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita convinced him to study graphic art
After failing his high school exams, Maurits was sent to the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts by his parents so that he could train as an architect. One of his teachers there was Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, who was a well-known graphic artist. Mesquita saw the linocut prints that Escher had made in secondary school and advised him to be a graphic artist instead of an architect. So after only one week Escher informed his father that he would rather study graphic art and his father reluctantly gave his permission. Mesquita remained Maurits’ friend and mentor for years to come.
#3 For many years Escher found it difficult to earn enough from graphic art
M.C. Escher studied at Haarlem from 1919 to 1922 gaining experience in drawings and woodcuts. One of his woodcuts from the time he was in Haarlem is titled “Never Think before You Begin“. It shows a lonely figure on a dark and treacherous path with only a tiny light to guide him. The woodcut is analogous to Escher’s decision to pursue graphic art. Although he sold many prints and illustrated for books, it took Escher more than 30 years to earn enough from his work to properly support himself. Luckily he had rich parents who helped him financially.
#4 He married Jetta Umiker and had three children with her
After leaving school, Escher traveled extensively through Italy. There he met Jetta Umiker, whom he married in 1924. They settled in Rome and two of their three sons were born there. The political climate of Italy changed with the rise of Fascism under Benito Mussolini and when Escher’s eldest son was forced to wear a uniform of an Italian Fascist Organization, Escher moved with his family to Switzerland. In 1937, he moved to Brussels, Belgium. The Second World War forced him to leave Brussels in 1941 and this time he settled in a town called Baarn in the country of his birth, Netherlands. He remained there for all but the last two years of his life. Escher died at the age of 73 on 27 March 1972 at his retirement home in Laren.
#5 The 13 years he spent in Italy were his most productive
During his time in Italy, Escher travelled extensively through the country. His main source of inspiration was southern Italian landscape. While travelling he would make drawings and sketches which he would later use in lithographic and woodcut prints. Escher produced almost half of his woodcuts and lithographs in the 13 years he lived in Italy.
#6 The Designs of Alhambra Castle had an influence on his work
Escher first visited Alhambra, a fourteen century Moorish castle in Granada, Spain in 1922. Escher was deeply influenced by the intricacy and geometric artistry of the patterns which were sculpted into the stone walls and ceilings of the castle. He revisited Alhambra in 1936 and saw even more in the patterns that repeated endlessly in a kind of 2D universe. Alhambra had a great influence on Escher’s work and he later himself said that his visit to Spain was an eye opener.
#7 Escher is referred to as the Father of Modern Tessellations
After his second visit to Alhambra, Escher spent a great deal of time experimenting with an area of mathematics known as tessellation. Tessellation is dividing the plane into multiple tiles with no overlaps and no gaps. They have been used in the art at Alhambra. During his lifetime Escher created 137 drawings based on the principle of tessellation. In his famous “Metamorphosis” series, Escher told a story by morphing images into a tessellated pattern and then slowly the pattern altered giving rise to a new image.
#8 M.C. Escher’s depiction of impossible objects inspired the Penrose Triangle
In the mid-1930s Escher started taking interest in mathematics. His work can be divided into two periods. His early work is intuitive. After he made contact with mathematicians he made much more complicated structures and his work became much deeper mathematically. In particular Escher was excited by the work of English mathematician Roger Penrose. The Penrose Triangle which was devised and popularized by Roger Penrose was partly inspired by depictions of impossible objects by Escher. In turn, Escher’s famous lithograph prints “Waterfall”, and “Ascending and Descending” were inspired by the work of Roger Penrose.
#9 Technically his art was much ahead of its time
Some of Escher’s work may have anticipated many deep features of modern Cosmology. Today, Cosmologists think that the universe may indeed be Escher shaped. In 1959, Escher created a woodcut titled “Circle Limit III” using just basic drawing tools. Nearly 40 years later mathematicians confirmed that it was an astonishingly accurate representation of space as it edges towards infinity, absolutely right to the last millimeter. Modern day mathematicians understand much more clearly the implications of Escher’s works.
#10 M.C. Escher was a pioneer of Impossible Reality art
Escher worked primarily in the media of lithographs and woodcuts. He also made 8 mezzotints which are considered to be masterpieces of the technique. During his lifetime, Escher made 448 lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings and over 2000 drawings and sketches. His most famous works are images that look convincing but defy logic. Some of them are ‘Drawing Hands‘ (1948), in which two hands draw each other; ‘Relativity‘ (1953), in which normal laws of gravity don’t apply; ‘Ascending and Descending‘ (1960), which is based on the Penrose Staircase; and ‘Up and Down‘ (1947) and ‘Waterfall‘ (1961), which are based on the concept of Mobius strip, a surface with only one side.