On November 20th, 2012 I hopped the train towards The Hague, having for the first time decided to explore The Netherlands beyond the busy confines of Amsterdam. I found The Hague to be much, much quieter than the ’Dam, and a heck of a lot cheaper on all fronts. I was staying in a super-modern place called the EasyHotel, one of those well-designed, automated places that offer no-frills accommodation at a Ryanair sort of price. The room had no television, clock radio, nor telephone, perks like early check-in, luggage storage or soaps and shampoos were all available for an extra fee, and the room was full of nifty space-saving features, like the bathroom door, which, when opened became the door to the stand-up shower. Very clever, that.
My target destination in The Hague was the Louwman Museum, the world’s oldest automotive collection, but I was saving that for the morning. No worries, The Hague had plenty of options to fill a tourist’s afternoon and I filled mine with Escher in Het Paleis: the Escher in the Palace museum.
Of course every university student is familiar with the art of M. C. Escher, his black and white mathematical impossibilities probably still adorn half the dorm rooms in North America. But even if you didn’t go to university (or if you lived off-campus) you still know this guy’s art; trust me.
Two hands drawing one other? Rooms full of ladders going in every possible (and every impossible) direction? Self-portrait reflected in a metal sphere? A bunch of fish symmetrical transforming into a bunch of symmetrical birds? Two heads made out of intertwining ribbons? Ogres marching up, up, up, an endlessly rising quadrangle of staircases? Ants crawling around a Möbius strip?
Now do you know who I’m talking about?
Anyway, the mansion that houses the Escher collection has all of this and much more, including a video screen floor that appears to fall away when you step on it and a pile of other cool stuff. The collection is housed in what was once the Royal Winter Palace, purchased by the much-beloved Queen Emma back in the mid-1800’s, so a good chunk of the place is devoted to period furniture decorating fancy, wood-panelled state rooms that are completely devoid of Escher’s art.
Which saved me a lot of time.
But the rooms that did hold Escher’s work also held my vast attention. Escher was such a mathy guy; he was definitely my kind of artist. Perfect symmetry is always beautiful, but most especially when it’s combined with an acute imagination and highly-trained craftsmanship.
And that’s exactly what Escher’s art encompasses. It’s especially crazy when you see the original woodcuts in person.
(By the way, after Escher died, holes were drilled into every one of his original woodcuts. This was done so that collectors would be able to distinguish between prints that were made by the artist himself or if they were made after his death. Like it matters, but I suppose it does.)
Heck, even the gift shop kept me engaged, as I pored over a wall of miniaturized one-euro art prints (also known as “postcards”), selecting more of my favourites than I’ll ever have friends to send them too.
So I mailed them to myself. (I always do that. You wouldn’t believe my postcard collection.)