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M.C. Escher, ‘Whirlpools’, estimated at $30,000-$50,000 at Swann.

Trio of M.C. Escher prints bewitch bidders at Swann’s April 30 sale

NEW YORK – Speaking about his 1957 color wood engraving and woodcut dubbed Whirlpools, shown above, Dutch artist M.C. Escher said: “I doubt that ‘the public’ will ever understand, much less appreciate, how many gymnastics of the brain, fascinating to me, have preceded the construction of such a picture.”

Maurits Cornelis (M.C.) Escher (1898-1972) was, sadly, correct at the time when he uttered those words. Only in his final years did he start receiving the acclaim he deserved. While the general public might not fully understand what went into the designs of his beguiling, math-inspired prints, they certainly appreciate them now. When Escher performed his gymnastics of the brain, he always stuck the landing. In its Tuesday, April 30 sale of Old Master Through Modern Prints, Swann Auction Galleries will offer three confections by Escher. The catalog is now open for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

The aforementioned Whirlpools, which is signed and inscribed ‘eigendruck’, a German term that translates as ‘own printing’, is the only one of the three to feature color. Swann describes the swirling image of fish as ‘A very good impression of this scarce print’, and it carries an estimate of $30,000-$50,000.

Circle Limit IV (Heaven and Hell), a woodcut dating to 1960, depicts fearsome devils in black and praying angels in white. Also signed and inscribed, Swann’s auction notes state ‘We have found only 5 other impressions at auction in the past 30 years.’ Its estimate is $25,000-$35,000.

The earliest M.C. Escher print on offer in the April 30 sale is a 1955 lithograph titled Convex and Concave, which sets forth one of his famous scenes of impossible architecture. The lot notes quote F.H. Bool, author of several books on Escher, attempting to capture the brain-boggling nature of the image in words: ‘When carefully studied, this print is a visual nightmare. At first glance, it seems to be a symmetrical structure: the left half is an approximate mirror image of the right half and the transition from left to right is gradual and very natural. Nevertheless something terrible happens at the transition in the center: everything is literally turned inside out. The top becomes the bottom, the front becomes the back. People, lizards and flowerpots rebel against the inversion; we identify them too clearly with tangible realities of which we do not know the inside-out form. But they, too, have to pay the price when they cross the borderline: their relation to the environment becomes so strange that looking at them makes you feel dizzy. For example, at the bottom left a man is climbing onto a platform by a ladder. He sees a small temple in front of him. He could stand next to the sleeping man and wake him up to ask why the shell-shaped pool in the middle is empty. Then he could go to the stairs on the right with the intention of walking up them. But it is already too late! What looked like stairs seen from the left, has suddenly turned into part of an arched vault. He would notice that the platform, which was once firm ground under his feet, is now a ceiling, and he would crash down with a terrified scream. The border line between the left and right half cannot be crossed without danger.’