In 2023 it will be 125 years since Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) was born. Escher is a celebrated artist, but this would not have been the case had it not been for his mentor and good friend Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita (1868-1944). From next February, the striking work of De Mesquita will hang alongside that of his most famous pupil at Escher in The Palace.
De Mesquita was not only a magnificent artist and printmaker, he also taught graphic techniques. It was in this capacity that he first met a keen young man at the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts. Encouraged by his parents, Escher initially chose to specialise in architecture, but soon reconsidered when De Mesquita saw his early work, and convinced his student to switch to graphic art. The two artists developed a lifelong artistic and personal connection.
Escher was a good student, and during his training he carefully observed the style and subjects of his teacher. De Mesquita depicted people and animals using strong lines, focusing on the essence. His animal portraits are full of character, made during visits to Artis zoo in Amsterdam, where he would study the animals. De Mesquita laid the foundation for Escher’s artistic practice, though they each went their own way stylistically after Escher had graduated. They remained in contact, however, and De Mesquita followed Escher’s career with great pride.
Even the Second World War did not stop the two men from remaining in touch. De Mesquita had Portuguese Jewish roots, and they both understood the dangers that he faced. Escher nevertheless continued to visit his old friend in those dangerous times. But his fears became a reality when, on the night of 31 January 1944, De Mesquita, his wife and their son Jaap were arrested and deported. The lives of De Mesquita and his wife came to a tragic end in Auschwitz. Their son Jaap also did not return from the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The unsuspecting Escher arrived at the empty home and studio of his former teacher on 28 February. It had been looted, and was in disarray. He gathered together as much of De Mesquita’s work as possible, thus saving a large proportion of his collection. Escher was thus able to honour his mentor in the years following his death.
Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita is known as the man who discovered M.C. Escher. But the exhibition will show that he was more than that. He was a powerful artist who made timeless prints. Escher in The Palace is to bring together the work of these two inspiring artists, reuniting the masters.