The Amazing World of M.C. Escher: Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich isn’t always the easiest part of London to travel to… however their current exhibition on enigmatic Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelius Escher is certainly worth the effort. It features nearly 100 pieces from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag collection, starting with his early works of 1920’s through to his last print ‘Snakes’ from 1969. For an artist with so many iconic pieces, Escher remains an obscure figure, but this exhibition sheds light on his original intentions to study architecture, his travels through Europe, marriage to Jetta and their children, and politics of the time – which place the works in much better context. There are too many standout pieces to mention, but ‘Eight Heads’ a 1992 woodcut, ‘Metamorphosis II’ a monumental woodcut (unusually featuring colour) created in 1939-‘40, and ‘Eye’ a mezzotint from 1946 deserve special attention. ‘Eight Heads’ is Escher’s first tessellation and gives the impression of a never ending story by repeating the same pattern of eight heads as its’ central motif. ‘Metamorphosis II’ spans an entire wall of one gallery and was extended to a 42 metre version in 1967 for the Post Office in The Hague; it begins and ends with the word metamorphose against a mono background and includes a chequered pattern which morphs into tessellations of reptiles, honeycomb, insects, fish, birds, and three dimensional blocs with red tops merging into an Italian coastal town and on into a chess set, all in stunning detail, ‘Eye’ features his own eye magnified by a convex shaving mirror with a skull occupying the centre of his pupil, and is displayed alongside the sketch and metal etching plate that the dry-point image was printed from, explaining the artistic process. Having now seen these pieces close up, I can only lament that Escher died in 1972 and I will never have the opportunity to hear him talk and gain insight into the inspiration behind his surreal yet methodical and mathematically perfect images.

Escher exhibition smith
‘Eight Heads’
Metamorphosis II
‘Metamorphosis II’
Eye
‘Eye’

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Plantin-Morteus Museum: Antwerp, Belgium

The Museum Plantin Moretus in Antwerp is a little known Unesco World Heritage Site that up until last weekend I’m ashamed to admit I’d never even heard of! The 440 year old former residence and print-works of Christophe Plantin and his heir and son-in-law Jan Moretus is a unique place to visit; the dark wood and original tapestry interiors smell centuries old, the 17th century floorboards creak under foot, the gilt leather walls cry out to be touched, and an enviable library fills your nostrils with the aroma of old parchment. The rooms are numbered to help orientate visitors and ensure a set route through the museum, however I still felt free to explore and roam the idiosyncratic town house… crouching under low doorways, ambling up narrow stairwells and venturing in and out of the beautiful courtyard garden the building centres around. It has been a museum since 1876 when Edward Moretus esquire sold the building and its contents to the Belgian state and city of Antwerp for that exact purpose, and it opened to the public within a year. The eclectic collection invites just as much exploration as the building and comprises period furnishing and paintings, 640 manuscripts, 80,000 printed items, 25,000 books, etching plates illustrated by the likes of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, as well as the two oldest printing presses in the world dating back to 1600. It’s always good to be pleasantly surprised by a less celebrated museum and the fact that I had a fun-fuelled grin on my face throughout my visit is testament to how convivial the building and its collection are. The fact that it is not a “big-name” also meant it was minus the throngs of tourists that its neighbour Rubens House museum had, which only made for a far more intimate and enjoyable experience.

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