Maurits Cornelis Escher: The Master of Impossible Art

By Maria Bregman

Maurits Cornelis Escher, or M.C. Escher, was a Dutch graphic artist who created some of the most iconic and mind-bending images of the 20th century. His works explored mathematical concepts, optical illusions, and impossible constructions, challenging the viewers’ perception of reality and logic. He was also a master of printmaking techniques, such as woodcut, lithograph, and mezzotint, producing over 450 prints and 2,000 drawings in his lifetime.

Early Life and Education

Escher was born on 17 June 1898 in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, as the youngest son of a civil engineer and his second wife. He was a sickly and creative child, who enjoyed music and carpentry, but struggled with mathematics. He failed several of his final exams and never completed his high-school education.

From 1919 to 1922, he studied at the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, where he developed an interest in graphics and learned woodcut from his teacher Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita. He also met his future wife, Jetta Umiker, a Swiss student, whom he married in 1924.

Travels and Inspirations

Escher spent most of the 1920s and 1930s travelling and living in various countries in Europe, especially Italy and Spain. He was fascinated by the landscapes, architecture, and culture of these places, and made many sketches and prints of them. He was particularly drawn to the geometric patterns and symmetries of the Islamic art he saw in the Alhambra and the Mezquita of Cordoba, which influenced his later works on tessellation and metamorphosis.

Escher also visited other countries, such as Switzerland, Belgium, France, and the UK, where he met and exchanged ideas with mathematicians, scientists, and artists. He was inspired by the works of J.S. Bach, Leonardo da Vinci, and Roger Penrose, among others. He also read books and articles on topics such as crystallography, topology, and non-Euclidean geometry, which expanded his knowledge and imagination.

Mature Style and Legacy

Escher’s mature style emerged in the late 1930s, when he started to create prints that combined realistic details with surreal and impossible effects. He used mathematical concepts and optical illusions to create paradoxical and infinite spaces, such as staircases that loop endlessly, waterfalls that flow upwards, and figures that morph into each other. He also experimented with different perspectives, reflections, and dimensions, creating images that challenge the viewers’ sense of orientation and logic.

Some of his most famous works from this period include Hand with Reflecting Sphere (1935), Relativity (1953), Waterfall (1961), and Ascending and Descending (1960). He also made some of his most impressive mezzotints, such as Eye (1946), Gallery (1946), and Dewdrop (1948), which show his mastery of light and shadow.

Escher’s art became widely popular among the public, especially after it was featured by Martin Gardner in his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American in 1966. His works appealed to people from different backgrounds and disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, psychology, and philosophy. He also influenced many artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers, such as Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd, Douglas Hofstadter, and Christopher Nolan.

Escher died on 27 March 1972 in Laren, the Netherlands, at the age of 73. He was buried in Baarn, where he had lived for most of his life. He left behind a rich and unique legacy of art that continues to inspire and amaze people around the world. He was one of the most original and influential artists of the 20th century, and a true master of impossible art.