Daily Art Moment: M.C. Escher

Day & Night. M.C. Escher. 1938. Woodcut in black and gray, printed from two blocks. 15 7/16 in x 26 5/8 in. 1. Aerial view of farm land between two cities and rivers with a flock of birds flying above. The left side of the print is light colored with dark outlines while the right is dark with light outlines. The middle of the print uses an optical illusion where, from one perspective, white birds are flying to the right with a view of dark fields between them and, from another perspective, black birds are flying to the left with a view of light fields between them. The fields below the birds make a checkerboard pattern, but the lines are more organic, forming a variety of shapes. In the bottom left corner is a town with a church in the middle and connected buildings around it in the shape of a trapezoid. Waterways with boats line the edges of the city and a windmill sits across from it. A few farm houses sit at the edges of fields. On the opposite side of the city, a flat narrow draw bridge stretches across the curving river. A line of five ships sail just to the right of the bridge. Across the river a few farmhouses stand in fields and trees line the water passageways between the fields. The right side has the same city, but with dark tones, and is a mirror of the left side. A simple black border surrounds the print.

As we move into spring from winter, I am reminded of M.C. Escher’s woodcut Day & Night, which captures another transition. In this engaging yet perplexing image, white and black birds appear above the checkered fields below, marking the switch from the nocturnal to the diurnal. Escher plays with negative and positive space, light and dark, and foreground and background, causing the viewer to constantly readjust their understanding of the scene. What do you see first?

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

A detail of the upper center of the print focusing on the tessellated confluence of black birds flying leftward with a view of light fields below and white birds flying to the right with a dark background. Moving from top to bottom, the birds devolve into lines and shapes.

M. C. Escher (Dutch, 1898–1972), Day & Night, 1938. Woodcut in black and grey, printed from two blocks. Gift of Mr. George O’Leary, 2019.89.16

Related Content