On this day in 1898, the great lithographer Maurits Cornelis Escher was born. As a young man, he was sickly in ways that I don’t like to think about. In college, for example, he failed some of his courses because of skin infections. Nonetheless, he seemed to get past this, attract a wife, have children, and live what seems to have been a fairly normal life.
He was born in the Netherlands, but moved to Italy in his early 20s. Everything was fine there. He liked the scenery. But with the rise of the fascists, he could stand it no more. Escher saw himself as non-political, but I doubt that’s really true. He was an artistic bourgeoisie and wasn’t political because the system worked for him. But fascism pushed against that. So he moved the family various places before ending up back in the Netherlands where he spent the rest of his life.
Escher is known for his mind-bending lithographs, but his early work wasn’t like that at all. He did a lot of landscapes. Very pretty stuff. There is no doubt that the man was a master of his trade early on in his career. Here is an example from 1930, Castrovalva:
Later in his life, he dismissed all of his work before 1935 as merely practice exercises. But that’s clearly not true. As with Magritte, I think sometimes the conceptual aspects of his later work distract from its beauty. But we definitely see his work evolve over time. In 1934, he created Still Life with Spherical Mirror, which contains some elements that will eventually become a recognizable part of his repertoire:
And the rest is history. I’m sure you’ve seen all his famous works, so I don’t feel the need to present them here. He did important work very late into his life.
Happy birthday Maurits Cornelis Escher!