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Maurits Cornelis Escher (Dutch, 1898–1972) was born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. He learned the rudiments of drawing and linoleum block printing from F. W. van der Haagen while a youth. At the age of twenty-one he went to Haarlem to study architecture at the now-defunct School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, but gave up architecture to pursue the study of graphic arts under S. Jessurun de Mesquita. He traveled to Italy and Spain, and in 1923 had his first solo exhibition in Sienna, Italy. Following this exhibition, Escher moved to Rome. This marked a turning point in the artist’s career toward realism.

The following year Escher married Jetta Umiker, the daughter of a once-wealthy trader, in Switzerland. The couple’s first son—George—was born in 1926.The family continued living in Rome until 1935, when the rise of fascism forced their move back to Jetta’s family home in Switzerland.

In 1936 Escher traveled by ocean freighter along the coasts of Italy and France, to Spain, where he copied in detail the Moorish mosaics in the Alhambra and in the mosque at Cordoba. These mosaics influenced the direction of his art. From this point forward Escher’s work was no longer bound by the laws of the physical universe, he began creating the reality-altering illustrations with which his name would become synonymous. Escher employed various media, including wood engraving, watercolor, pencil, ink, and lithography, to create his visual puzzles.

In 1937 the Escher family moved to Belgium and then, in 1941, to Baarn, the Netherlands, where he lived until 1970. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s his art was largely ignored, but he began gathering recognition from scientists and mathematicians. In 1951, Time and Life magazine published articles about him, and in 1954 he had a large exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam on the occasion of the International Mathematical Conference; he also exhibited at the Whyte Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Graphic Work of M. C. Escher was published in 1959; in the 1960s, Escher’s work took off among young Americans, many of whom regarded him as the first psychedelic artist. The Saturday Evening Post and Scientific American published articles about him.

In 1968, Escher and his wife separated (she moved back to Switzerland; they never divorced). He exhibited at the Mickelson Gallery in Washington, D.C., and at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. In 1970 he moved to a retirement home in the Netherlands for elderly artists. The World of M. C. Escher was published in 1971; in 1972 the beloved artist died of cancer.

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