Maurits Cornelis

Netherlands • 1898−1972
Maurits Cornelis Escher (17 June 1898 – 27 March 1972) was a Dutch painter, graphic artist, draftsman, book illustrator, tapestry designer, muralist and printmaker, famous for his ornamental prints and work from “impossible architecture”.

His parents, George Arnold Escher and Sarah Gleichman Escher, had three sons of which Maurits (called Mauk for short) was the youngest. His father, George, was a civil engineer. The Escher family was living in Leeuwarden in 1898, where George served as Chief Engineer for a government bureau. The family lived in a grand house named "Princessehof," which would later become a museum and host exhibitions of M.C. Escher's works.

Young M.C. Escher moved with his family to Arnhem. He attended elementary and secondary school there, and also in the seaside town of Zandvoort, where he lived for a while to improve his health. In 1907, he started learning carpentry and piano. In secondary school, his marks were poor except in drawing. His art teacher took and interest in his drawing talent, and taught him to make linocuts. He failed his final exam and thus never officially graduated.

Escher recalled, “First time when I drew something on the piece of paper, my devout aunt Gretchen shuddered and cross herself. Then father came up to me, stared and didn't say anything.”

In 1913, M.C. Escher met his lifelong friend Bas Kist in religious school (which he attended at his parent's direction, even though he wasn't very religious). Kist was also interested in printing techniques, and may have encouraged M.C. to make his first linoleum cut works. Amoung these early works is a portrait of his father which is the oldest surviving work by the artist. In 1917, the two friends visited the artist Gert Stegeman, who had a printing press in his studio. Some of M.C.'s work from this year were apparently printed at Stegeman's.

In 1917, the Escher family moved to Oosterbeek, Holland. During this year and the following few years, M.C. Escher and his friends became involved in literature, and he began to write some of his own poems and essays.

In 1918, Escher began taking private lessons and studies in architecture at the Higher Technology School in Delft. Escher dreamed of becoming an architect, but was forced to abandon it due to poor health. He managed to get a deferrement on military service in order to study, but poor health prevented him from keeping up with the curriculum. He was rejected for enlistment in the military service in 1919, and as a result could not continue school (he had never successfully graduated from high school!). During this difficult period, Escher did many drawings, and also began using woodcuts as a medium. It was also at this time that his work began to receive favorable reviews in the media. Still trying to pursue a career in architecture, M.C. Escher next moved to Haarlem and began studies as the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts. After a week in the city, he met the artist Jessurun de Mesquita. After seeing Escher's drawings, Mesquita and the school's director advised him to continue with them. He began full-time study of "the graphic and decorative arts" in the fall of 1919.

In 1921, Escher and his parents visited the Riviera and Italy. Unimpressed by the tropical flowers of the Mediterranean, he made detailed drawings of cacti and olive trees. He also sought out high places and dramatic vistas to sketch, some of his later works that were influenced by these sights. Escher traveled around Italy some more, and in August of 1923 he held his first one-man show in Siena. He paid very little attention to this important milestone in his artistic career, he was concentrating on Jetta Umiker from Swiss family at the pension where Escher was staying. In mid-August he proposed to her, and on August 28 the artist arrived in Zurich to formally meet the family. They decided to marry and live in Italy.

Later he became interested in prints, and his first popular works were landscapes, which he captures in his numerous journeys.

Living in Rome happily with his wife and the child in the late 1920s, the artist had a productive period then. He exhibited works in many shows in Holland, and by 1929 he was so popular that he was able to hold five shows in Holland and Switzerland that year. It was during this period that his pictures were first labeled as mechanical and "reasoned." Pictures from this period include some of Escher's most striking landscapes, and also some stark commercial illustrations. The very famous lithographic of a mountainside village, Castrovalva, was completed in February 1930. Also, Escher's son Arthur was born in 1930.

In 1934, Escher and his family went to the seashore, and then Escher and his wife continued on to Belgium, Ghent, and Bruges. In the meantime, his work was doing well in the US. His print Nonza won the third prize at the Exhibition of Contemporary Prints at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute also purchased the print, which was Escher's first sale to a museum in America.

As much as Escher loved Rome, he did not spend the rest of his days there. Due to the rise in fascism in the 1930's, Escher found life in Rome less and less bearable. It was for this reason that in July of 1935 he relocated to Chateau d'Oex in Switzerland.

After Escher left Italy in 1935, his interest shifted from landscape to something he described as "mental imagery," often based on theoretical premises. This was prompted in part by the second visit in 1936 to the fourteenth-century palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The lavish tile work adorning the Moorish architecture suggested new directions in the use of color and the flattened patterning of interlocking forms. Replacing the abstract patterns of Moorish tiles with recognizable figures, in the late 1930s Escher developed "the regular division of the plane." The artist also used this concept in creating his Metamorphosis prints. Starting from the 1920s, the idea of «metamorphosis»— one shape or object turning into something completely different—became one of Escher's favorite themes. After 1935, Escher also increasingly explored complex architectural mazes involving perspectival games and the representation of impossible spaces.

Really triumphal progress of Escher's works started in the middle 1950s, after his first exhibition in USA. It's hard to imagine how much the painter could make but his poor health сaused problems and discomfort. In his life, Escher underwent some operations, last two years he lived in a retirement home and died from cancer at the age of 73.

Features of works of the artist Maurits Escher: especially popular are «mosaic» work of the artist, which are formed in a symmetrical pattern of various animals. Escher used the methods based on mathematical principles. Scientists, crystallographers use his engravings for illustrations to their articles. As Escher said, “I often seem I have more in common with mathematicians than with my fellow artists“.

World of Escher was admired mainly by mathematicians (he himself wasn't a mathematician — in fact, he wasn’t even a good math student.) and scientists, and found global fame only when he came to be considered a pioneer of psychedelic mathematical art by the hippy counterculture of the 1960s.

His work eventually appeared not only in printed form, but also as commissioned or imitative sculptures on public buildings, as decorations on everything from neckties to mousepads, and in software written to automate the reproduction and manipulation of tesselations. Reproductions of his work remain in strong demand, and he has inspired thousands of other artists to pursue mathematical themes in their own work. He is of course also much imitated.

As his art style developed, he drew great inspiration from the mathematical ideas he read about, often working directly from structures in plane and projective geometry, and eventually capturing the essence of non-Euclidean geometries, as we will see below. He was also fascinated with paradox and “impossible” figures, and used an idea of Roger Penrose’s to develop many intriguing works of art. Thus, for the student of mathematics, Escher’s work encompasses two broad areas: the geometry of space, and what we may call the logic of space.

Some facts about Escher:

- The biggest picture of Escher - “Metamorphosis – 2” depicting10 transformations is sized 19 centimeters by 3.9 meters.

- As many geniuses, Escher was left-handed. He painted with his left hand, but wrote with his right hand.

-Escher left 448 wood-engravings, linocuts, lithographs and more 2000 drawings.

-His prints adorn albums by Mott the Hoople and the Scaffold, and he was courted unsuccessfully by Mick Jagger for an album cover and by Stanley Kubrick for assistance in transforming what became 2001: A Space Odyssey into a “fourth-dimensional film”.

Image of Escher's lithograph “Relativity” is used regularly in other artistic creations, for example, in “Futurama” cartoon (an episode “I, Roommate”. Another example can be seen in the сlip of Red Hot Chili Peppers on their “Othersise” song.
Go to biography


View all publications


All exhibitions of the artist
View all artist's artworks
Whole feed