ESCHER MUSEUM Den Haag

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The lady in front of me at the desk was offered a brochure for the museum and it was pointed out that when unfolded it became a poster for Escher’s 1961 picture Waterfall. No thanks, the lady said, I already have it and lots of other Escher posters too – and so it seems does everyone else.

That’s the trouble with Escher, and lots of other artists besides, that their work become so overused, so available, so popular that it loses its power to surprise and enthrall. It is particularly numbing to Escher, Magritte, Dali et al where surprise and mystery are essential elements. The pictures become common place, familiar – and we all know what familiarity breeds.

So, it was nice to be able to see the works of Maurits Cornelis Escher from a different perspective, in the flesh as it were. The Escher museum, known as Escher in het Paleis, is housed in a former royal residence in the heart of The Hague, a stone’s throw from the forbidding, fortresslike American embassy.

The visit was worth it for the magnificent building alone. Originally the winter palace of Queen Mother Emma between 1901 and 1934 it was subsequently used by a succession of Dutch queens right up until 1984. There are panels describing the former function of each room and there a few remnants of the old furnishings. Even without the Eschers, it would be worth seeing. The grand, central staircase with a bit of tweaking could easily be turned into a classic Escher eye-boggler.

Now, whether you believe Escher was an artist or an illustrator one thing is for sure, he was a master craftsman. Almost all his output was prints and he worked in three mediums – wood cut, wood engraving and lithography. It was in the first two that he really excelled and you will never ever find a better exponent in the discipline. The intricacy and detail he managed to produce are truly breath-taking and although I was familiar with virtually all of the images from reproductions it was refreshing to see the original works alongside documentation, sketch books and photographs.

So, a visit to Escher in het Paleis in The Hague is very highly recommended.    Michael Hasted   June 2017

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