On this day in 1898, Maurits Cornelius Escher was born in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, Northern Netherlands. Poor Maurits suffered poor health which affected his academics—he was always a poor student except when it came to art and drawing. He was accepted into The Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where he studied architecture (that is, until he failed too many courses and decided to transfer to Decorative Arts). Now a bit settled, Maurits continued to develop his skill as a draughtsman and printer (especially making lithographs and woodcut prints).
At 24, he travelled to Italy and Spain where he absorbed the classical art, architecture, and landscapes that had inspired so many artists before him. He found the Alhambra, in southern Spain, was especially compelling. The interlocking shapes, geometric symmetries, and mathematical precision of the tiling (and other decorative elements) really resonated with him—and proved to have a tremendous influence on his future work.
Not long after, he and his new wife moved to Rome where he focussed on landscape painting. He also produced three sons. But the 1930’s—and Mussolini’s Fascism—were troubling for the artist. The final straw was learning that his nine year old son, Giorgio, had been dressed in a Fascist “Balilla” uniform while at school. Escher moved his family from Italy to Switzerland, and when that proved unsatisfactory, he moved again to Brussels. When WWII broke-out, he moved his family again, this time back to The Netherlands. The cold, damp and dark Dutch weather provided the right motivation for the artist to stay indoors and work.
By now, Escher had moved-on from his early landscapes and into experiments drawing “impossible architecture” with contrived, irregular, and forced perspectives. He also created complex and inventive “tessellations”—that is, patterns of interlocking shapes that fit perfectly together on a flat surface (like the tiles at Alhambra). Some of these tessellations, like Escher’s image featured above, also included an element of “transmorphism”—in which one distinct element evolves into another—while still part of a seamless, interlocking whole.
In 1970, Escher moved into the Rosa Spier Huis—a retirement home in Laren where many notable Dutch artists have lived-out their senior years, all the while continuing to work. He died at the age of 73 on 27 March 1972.