The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 17, 2016

June 17, 1898

We notice several cats on the Escher website.  Wonderful cats. Who was the man who carved these woodcuts?

This brief biography note situates M. C. Escher 
(June 17, 1898 to March 27, 1972) in a 20th century context:

Maurits Cornelis Escher was born in Leeuwarden (in the Netherlands) in 1898, the son of an engineer, G.A. Escher. The family moved to Arnhem in 1903, where he entered high-school at 13 ..... He wasn't a good student, although his art teacher noticed his talent - twice he had to repeat a grade and he failed to obtain a diploma on leaving.

In 1919, following the wish of his father, he went to Haarlem to study at the School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem under the architect Vorrink. But after assisting to a lecture of Samuel Jesserun de Mesquita on graphic techniques, Escher realised that his talents lay more in the direction of the decorative arts .... and de Mesquita became his main teacher. ...

Escher left the art school in 1922, after he acquired a good grounding in drawing and he had so mastered the art of the woodcut that de Mesquita thought he was ready to go his own way. He kept regular contact with de Mesquita and he would send the master copies of his latest pieces of work.

After leaving school, Escher spent time traveling through Italy,.... He spent the winter of 1922 and the spring of 1923 in Siena, where he produced the first woodcuts of Italian landscapes. He also met here his future wife, Jetta Umiker, whom he was to marry in 1924. After the wedding the couple moved to Rome, where their first son, George, was born in 1926.

Until 1935, Escher, together with other fellow artists, would set-off each spring on a two-month journey in the Abruzzi mountains, Campania, Sicily, Corsica and Malta, from where he would collect impressions and make sketches. During this period, he was not very well known. He had held a few exhibitions and illustrated some books. He hardly sold any work, and he remained dependent on his parents...

In 1935, the political climate in Italy became unacceptable to Escher, so the family left Italy and settled in Switzerland, at Chateau d'Oex. They stay here was, however, very short, due to the harsh climate and the landscape, which afforded him no inspiration. He then decided to travel in the Mediterranean region on a cargo vessel, in exchange for some of his paintings. The journeying, partly comprising travels in the south of Spain, had a great impact on Escher's work. For example, visiting the Alhambra in Granada, where he studied the Moorish ornamentations, inspired him to work on tessellations of the plane.
[this event is dated differently in another sketch cited below.]

In 1937 he moved to Ukkel, near Brussels, Belgium, and because of the war, he settled in 1941 in Baarn, Holland....His recognition and success came after 1955. After 1953, he became a lecturer at many organisations and he wrote a book with illustrations and text for some lectures, which was later published as part of the book Escher on Escher... In 1970 he moved to Laren, in North Holland, where he died in 1972.

A better biographical resource should also be consulted for those interested in the man whose art mesmerized the last half of the 20th century and himself posed the possibility for a grasp of mathematics which transcended (skipped?) typical mental models of mathematical success.

We should note also that the Cornell math department excludes the cats, cited above and dated to 1919, from what they call Escher's periods of creativity. We might have to re-open that question.

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