The Artist M.C. Escher

Born in 1898 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, the artist Maurits Cornelius Escher became famous for his lithographs, woodcuts, and mezzotints. The Dutch graphical artist was awarded the Knighthood of the Order of Orange-Nassau for his mathematically-inspired art that appeared to construct concepts like infinity. Famous for his “impossible structures,” Escher also composed realistic art. Among his most noteworthy pieces are Drawing Hands (1948) and Waterfall (1961).

Escher, known as Mauk to his family, was essentially a sickly young child. He was the youngest son of George Escher and his wife Sara. The elder Escher was a civil engineer. Although Escher did not do particularly well in school during his early years, he was eventually exposed to some carpentry and piano training. Although Escher’s grades would remain sub-par, he did well at drawing. Consequently, in 1919 Escher entered the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts. Initially his studies were concentrated in architecture—which would have a lasting influence, but he soon switched to decorative arts.

Travel had a profound impact on Escher’s art. After his studies, Escher traveled to Italy and also to Spain where the famed Alhambra would have a major influence on his art. While in Italy Escher met and later married Jetta Umiker in 1924. The pair lived in Rome until 1935 when the political climate, under Mussolini, became intolerable to them. They, along with their growing family, settled briefly in Switzerland and then in Brussels. However, as the war progressed, the Eschers moved to Baarn, Netherlands where Escher lived until his death.

Aside from draftsmanship Escher was also a book illustrator, muralist, and tapestry designer. The images created from his imaginings cemented his reputation in the arts. Although he was not trained in mathematics, the concepts and images of tessellations show that he was decidedly gifted in his mathematical intuition. Escher explained the mathematical component of his work in 1941 with a paper titled, Regular Division of the Plane with Asymmetric Congruent Polygons. He preferred to work with lithographs and woodcuts, but he has been revered for the few mezzotints he produced.

Escher loved to rethink spaces and play with their perspective and construction. His keen observations of the world led to fantastical re-imaginings that carved his legacy as one of history’s most unusual artists. Other famous Escher works include Relativity (1953), Ascending and Descending (1960), and Convex and Concave (1955). Escher died in 1972 at the age of seventy-three. He is considered one of the great twentieth-century artists working in the field of drawing and printmaking.