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Maurits Cornelis Escher (Leeuwarden 1898-1972 Laren)

Ontmoeting (Encounter)

lithograph, watermark Holland Van Gelder (VGZ interlaced), 1944
signed ‘M.C. Escher No 22/30’
47 x 61 cm
Bool 331[1] , the sheet is in generally good condition, there is some discolouration to the paper and there is some light and mount staining, there is a 3 cm repaired tear in the lower edge, the sheet is otherwise in good condition

Private Collection, The Netherlands.

Few artists have left such a large, varied and complex graphic oeuvre as the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher. While celebrated today as one of the most gifted and original graphic artists of the 20th century, his initial steps as an artist, and indeed most of his career, were far from smooth. Escher was born in Leeuwarden in 1898 as the youngest son of the civil engineer George Arnold Escher and his second wife, Sara Gleichman. Five years later, in 1903, the Escher family moved to Arnhem where their youngest son attended a special school due to his sickly nature. His grades were generally poor and he failed his second grade. Unsurprisingly, there was one subject in which Escher excelled; drawing.

After his difficult school years, Escher went to the Technical College of Delft in 1918 and from 1919 to 1922 he attended the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where he studied drawing and learned the art of making woodcuts under Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita (1868-1944). In 1922 made a journey to Italy and Spain which had a profound influence on his work. The geometrical decorative designs of the Alhambra proved to be a major source of inspiration which would play a definitve role in the Escher’s artistic direction. After his comparatively brief sojourns in Italy and Spain, the artist settled in Rome (1924-1935) with his wife and son. In 1935 he left Italy to flee from Mussolini’s regime and after having lived in Switzerland and Belgium (1935-1941), Escher moved back to The Netherlands and settled in Baarn 1941.

During the war Escher continued to produce some of his most important works such as Verdum (Earth, Sky and Water) (1942), Reptiles (1943) and Encounter (1944). About this work Escher remarked that ‘out from the grey surface of a black wall there develops a complicated pattern of white and black figures of little men. And since men who desire to live need at least a floor to walk on, a floor has been assigned for them, with a circular gap in the middle so that as much as possible can still be seen on the black wall In this way they are forced not only to walk in a ring, but also to meet each other in the foreground: a white optimist and a black pessimist shaking hands with each other.’.[2] The optimist is shown with a smile and an open hand raised in the air, while the pessimist is shown with an angry face and a raised finger in a gesture of warning. The two figures emerge from the background, make their way to the front over the circular floor and meet in the foreground where they shake hands. While Escher’s work is generally not politically moved, it is hard not to see a statement of peace and friendship in the present work which was, after all, executed during the end of the second world war.

[1] F.H. Bool 'et al.', 'Leven en werk van M.C. Escher, Het levensverhaal van de graficus. Met een volledig geïllustreerde catalogus van zijn werk', Amsterdam, 1981, p. 285.
[2] M.C. Escher, 'M.C. Escher: The Graphic Work', Cologne, 1992, p. 11.

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