Best known for his mathematically-inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints many of which features mathematical objects and operations including impossible objects, explorations of infinity, reflection, symmetry, perspective, truncated and stellated polyhedra, hyperbolic geometry, and tessellations, the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher was born on 17 June 1898 in Leeuwarden, Friesland, the Netherlands. In 1903, the family moved to Arnhem, where he attended primary and secondary school until 1918. Known to his friends and family as “Mauk”, he was a sickly child and was placed in a special school at the age of seven; he failed the second grade. He excelled at drawing,and He took carpentry and piano lessons until he was thirteen years old. In 1918, he went to the Technical College of Delft. From 1919 to 1922, Escher attended the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, learning drawing and the art of making woodcuts. He briefly studied architecture, but switched to decorative arts, studying under the graphic artist Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita
Early in his career, he drew inspiration from nature, making studies of insects, landscapes, and plants such as lichens, all of which he used as details in his artworks. In 1922, Escher traveled through Italy, visiting Florence, San Gimignano, Volterra, Siena, and Ravello. He also visited Madrid, Toledo, and Granada in Spain and was impressed by the Italian countryside and, in Granada, by the Moorish architecture of the fourteenth-century Alhambra. The intricate decorative designs of the Alhambra, based on geometrical symmetries featuring interlocking repetitive patterns in the coloured tiles or sculpted into the walls and ceilings, triggered his interest in the mathematics of tessellation and became a powerful influence on his work. Escher returned to Italy and lived in Rome from 1923 to 1935. While in Italy, Escher met Jetta Umiker – a Swiss woman, like himself attracted to Italy – whom he married in 1924. The couple settled in Rome where their first son, Giorgio (George) Arnaldo Escher, named after his grandfather, was born. Escher and Jetta later had two more sons – Arthur and Jan.
He also visited Viterbo in 1926, the Abruzzi in 1927 and 1929, Corsica in 1928 and 1933, Calabria in 1930, the Amalfi coast in 1931 and 1934, and Gargano and Sicily in 1932 and 1935. The townscapes and landscapes of these places feature prominently in his artworks. In 1936, Escher travelled back to Spain, revisiting the Alhambra and spending days at a time making detailed drawings of its mosaic patterns and became fascinated with tessellation and The sketches he made in the Alhambra formed a major source for his work. He also studied the architecture of the Mezquita, the Moorish mosque of Cordoba. He also interacted with the mathematicians George Pólya, Roger Penrose, Harold Coxeter and crystallographer Friedrich Haag, and conducted his own research into tessellation.
After 1937, his artworks were created in his studio rather than on location. His art correspondingly changed sharply from being mainly observational, with a strong emphasis on the realistic details of things seen in nature and architecture, to being the product of his geometric analysis and his visual imagination.
By 1935, the fanatical political climate in Italy (under Mussolini caused the family to leave Italy and they moved to Château-d’Œx, Switzerland, where they remained for two years. In 1935 The Netherlands post office had Escher design a semi-postal stamp for the “Air Fund”, and in 1949 he designed Netherlands stamps. These were for the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union; a different design was used by Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles for the same commemoration. Escher, had been inspired by the landscapes in Italy, but was decidedly unhappy in Switzerland. In 1937, the family moved again, to Uccle (Ukkel), a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. However World War II forced them to move in January 1941, this time to Baarn, Netherlands, where Escher lived until 1970. After 1953, Escher lectured widely and the illustrations and text for the lectures were later published as part of the book Escher on Escher. He was awarded the Knighthood of the Order of Orange-Nassau in 1955 and later made an Officer in 1967.
In July 1969 he finished his last work, a large woodcut with threefold rotational symmetry called Snakes, in which snakes wind through a pattern of linked rings. These shrink to infinity toward both the center and the edge of a circle. It was exceptionally elaborate, being printed using three blocks, each rotated three times about the center of the image and precisely aligned to avoid gaps and overlaps, for a total of nine print operations for each finished print. The image encapsulates Escher’s love of symmetry; of interlocking patterns; and, at the end of his life, of his approach to infinity. In 1970 Escher moved to the Rosa Spier Huis in Laren an artists’ retirement home in which he had his own studio. He died in a hospital in Hilversum on 27 March 1972, aged 73. He is buried at the New Cemetery in Baarn.