15 prints by Edvard Munch and 13 drawings by M. C. Escher enter The National Gallery of Art's collection

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15 prints by Edvard Munch and 13 drawings by M. C. Escher enter The National Gallery of Art's collection
M.C. Escher, Spider in the Garden (design for a ceramic plate),1920. Watercolor and graphite on light brown handmade paper, sheet: 25.9 x 24.5 cm (10 3/16 x 9 5/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Michael Schiffman in honor of Rock J. Walker/Walker Fine Art 2021.98.2.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art’s collection of prints by Edvard Munch (1863–1944), with numerous examples assembled by Sarah and Lionel Epstein, is the largest and finest gathering of the artist’s graphic work outside his native Norway. The Epstein Family Foundation, which has donated some 119 prints by Munch since 1990, has recently given 15 more. Among the superb works in the latest donation are impressions of some of the artist’s major color woodcuts: Anxiety (1896), Moonlight I-II (1896, printed 1913), and Melancholy (Woman on the Shore) (1898). While these prints hauntingly convey the emotional states of angst and alienation for which the artist is best known, several others represent his fixation on the complex dynamics of male-female relationships. Among the highlights in this group are exceptional early black-and-white impressions of Munch’s iconic lithographs Madonna (1895/1897–1898) and Vampire II (1896); In Man’s Brain (1897), a rare color woodcut printed in vibrant red ink that depicts a nude woman in a cloud-like form above a man’s head; as well as both the color woodcut (1899) and an etched version (1902) of Encounters in Space.

The National Gallery of Art holds the preeminent public collection of works—31 drawings and 400 prints—outside Europe by M. C. Escher (1898–1972), the master of optical illusion. Thirteen drawings recently given by Michael Schiffman in honor of Rock J. Walker fill chronological gaps, add new subjects, and provide additional context for several of the National Gallery’s prints.

Among the works included in this recent gift are the following highlights: sketches of a nude woman that directly relate to Escher’s early woodcut Seated Female Nude (1921); a delicate watercolor of a spider in its web that is one of only two known designs the artist made for ceramic plates; and several drawings of landscapes and sites that date to Escher’s early travels in Italy—an experience that remained a primary source of his artistic inspiration. Demonstrating his growing fascination with mysterious and disorienting architectural environments, Madonna del Parto, Sutri (1927) portrays the enclosed remains of the colonnade of a Roman era Mithraeum in white chalk on black paper to enhance the cave-like atmosphere of the temple space. Other drawings include two sketches of a woman’s hands (c. 1930) very likely modeled by Escher’s wife Guilietta (Jetta) during the early days of their marriage; the humorous Il Diavolo di Ravello (1931), which shows the devil dressed as a cleric and introduces what would become a recurring devil motif; three design sketches that document Escher’s mathematical approach as he worked out the geometries underlying his most famous visual conundrums in the late 1930s and early 1940s; and Symmetry 131 (1967), comprising black and white flower-filled pentagons and numbering among the 137 fully developed periodic patterns that served as a critical resource for his best-known works.

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