M. C. Escher

1898 - 1972 · Netherlands

Artist biography

Maurits Cornelis Escher, known professionally as M. C. Escher was a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically inspired woodcuts and lithographs. He did not become well known as an artist until later in his life, and held his first retrospective show at the age of 70. He became much more widely appreciated in the 21st century and his works depicting ‘impossible’ objects are now instantly recognisable.

Born in 1898 in Friesland, the Netherlands, Escher studied at the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where he specialised in decorative arts. In 1922 he travelled extensively and was deeply inspired by the geometric architecture of the Alhambra in Spain. This triggered his interest in tessellating and mathematical patterns which would become a key theme in his work.

Escher’s work is inescapably mathematical, and represents his obsession for geometric forms, symmetry, and the concept of infinity. Although he was never mathematically trained, Escher understood mathematics from a visual perspective and it became the underlying basis for the entirety of his work which included lithographs and mezzotints. After returning to Alhambra in 1936, Escher began to explore the possibilities of tessellation using geometric grids, and incorporated animals such as reptiles and birds into his interlocking designs. He developed his practice into creating ‘invented places’ which were impossible architecturally but followed the principle of mathematics and were envisaged in his mind.

Appreciation for Escher’s work has grown significantly in the 21st century, with his work being exhibited across the globe. In 2011 an exhibition dedicated to his work in Rio de Janeiro was the most visited museum exhibition of the year anywhere in the world. In 2015, the Scottish National Gallery held an exhibition of his work, which then travelled to London, Rome, Bologna and Milan.

M. C. Escher