MC Escher was born 125 years ago in Leeuwarden. Artist of optical illusions and impossible architecture has fans from Japan to America

In 2023, it will be 125 years since MC Escher was born in Leeuwarden. Interest in this graphic artist with his optical illusions and impossible architecture is still growing worldwide. Some museums attach great importance to this anniversary year.

Before coming to the Netherlands, Japanese tourists call on Escher at Het Paleis in The Hague. Because they want to know for sure that they will be able to see MC Escher’s work, which Judith Kadee has already experienced. She is the curator of Het Paleis, which is devoted exclusively to Escher’s oeuvre. Kadee saw the number of visitors to this museum increase from 100,000 to 176,000 in almost ten years. “They come from everywhere: from Germany and Japan to America. Sixty percent of our visitors come from abroad.”

Star status in the US

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) died half a century ago. Since then, interest in his prints has only increased. The value of his artwork also continues to rise. This is primarily due to some fanatical collectors in the USA, who drive the prices up even further. Last year was in a TV broadcast of Between art and kitsch to see how two Escher prints were valued at a combined €100,000 – one of the highest sums ever to go on the TV show.

“Especially in the U.S., he’s kind of a star,” Kadee says of the artist. “Escher’s strength is that he knows how to appeal to a wide audience. Even people who would otherwise never go to a museum. Our visitors come from all walks of life.

Born in the palace of Leeuwarden

Escher was born in Leeuwarden on the Grote Kerkstraat, in the former palace of Princess Maria Louise of Hesse-Kassel. Today, the Princessehof Ceramics Museum is located there, with a room in the basement where there is a permanent exhibition about MC Escher.

Around the age of five, the Escher family moves to Arnhem, where young Maurits continues to grow up. He studies at the School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem. There he is taught by Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita. This graphic artist is impressed by Escher’s graphic work and encourages him to go in that direction. De Mesquita creates, among other things, portraits and scenes with animals. He works in a simple style with slim and graceful forms. This powerful and stylized approach must have influenced the young Escher.

MC Escher in Leeuwarden

The Princessehof Keramikmuseum has a permanent exhibition about one of the most famous residents of this building. In this small exhibition, the visitor gets to know the young Maurits on the basis of photos, film fragments and objects. The artist Leon Keer filled the room’s walls with a dazzling mural, inspired by MC Escher’s well-known work ‘Hol en Bol’.

in Sprout order through Southern Europe

His early work can still be called traditional. Escher makes woodcuts of people, landscapes, cityscapes and biblical scenes. He travels extensively through Southern Europe and lives in Rome for more than ten years from 1924. He is inspired by nature and the cities of Italy and Spain and increasingly experiments with architecture and perspective.

Important are the visits to the Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita in Córdoba. In the architecture and in the tile patterns on the walls, Escher sees mathematical principles in the flat surface, which forms the basis for his research into forms and metamorphoses. In it, for example, forms of animals exactly interlock or change into other creatures. The prints become more and more imaginative as Escher plays with perspective and illusion. Slowly his fascination with ‘landscapes’ changes to ‘mindscapes’.

Escher 125 is mainly concentrated in The Hague

In this anniversary year, Het Paleis is showing in the double exhibition from 18 February The discoverer of Escher The work of Samuel de Mesquita. It is not only about the master-apprentice relationship, but also about the personal friendship that the two artists had. Opens at the same time in the Kunstmuseum Den Haag Another world . Here, Escher’s famous print is combined with the spectacular design of the Belgian artist duo Gijs Van Vaerenbergh. They fill the museum spaces with installations that refer to Escher’s (im)possible representations, so that his work can also be experienced spatially.

This autumn, Het Paleis will also show Like Escher a large group of contemporary artists and designers who show that the important themes of Escher – such as illusion, metamorphosis, infinity, reflection and repetition – are still ubiquitous.

Exhibitions Escher 125

Escher in The Palace, The Hague:

-Until February 12 ‘Escher: Eternity and Infinity’ – follow Escher’s development as an artist.

– 18. February to October 1 ‘The discoverer of Escher: Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita’ – Escher with his teacher and friend.

-3. November to 24 March 2024 ‘Just like Escher’ – contemporary artists reflect on Escher.

Art Museum The Hague:

– 18. February to September 10 ‘Another world’ – experience Escher like never before in Gijs Van Vaerenbergh’s spatial installations.

Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam:

-To March 5 ‘Piranesi on paper’ (one of Escher’s sources of inspiration)

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