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The eyes have it at Escher museum

THE HAGUE -- M. C. Escher once said he had more in common with mathematicians than with other artists, and it's not hard to see why.

In the abstract logic of his world, birds could transform geometrically into fish and water could appear to flow uphill, as long as the perspective was accurate and the draftsmanship flawless.

Thirty years after his death, the surrealist Escher has landed squarely among the ranks of the great Dutch masters: Like van Gogh and Rembrandt, he now has a museum dedicated exclusively to his work.

The museum is in a three-story "palace" here, a luxurious 18th-century building that was once the home of the Dutch queen Emma. Unlike the bizarre castles and other strange places portrayed in Escher's work, the Escher in the Palace museum is built with four solid walls, and its regal staircases obey the laws of physics.

Drawing on the collection of The Hague's municipal museum, it arranges Escher's prints and drawings chronologically, with early realistic sketches, linoleum cuts, and some commercial designs on the first floor and most of the masterpieces of perspective and optical illusion that made him famous in the 1950s and 1960s grouped thematically on the second, main floor.

The museum also adds a modern touch with a "virtual reality" display on the third floor that turns some of Escher's best-known works into moving holograms. This gives visitors a chance to see, for example, his lizardlike "Reptiles" in motion, turning back and forth between two- and three-dimensional beings. Escher was born in the city of Leeuwarden in 1898 and worked as an artist for most of his life, but he became widely acclaimed only in the decade before his 1972 death.

He is known for his interlacing geometric patterns, which are so precise they have been used by scientists who study crystal formation. But his most popular works are "Alice in Wonderland"-style scenes that appear normal at first glance, but upon reflection prove to violate the laws of nature. The effect can be unnerving.

"There always comes a moment when you realize something's wrong," said museum spokeswoman Micky Piller. "I like to call it `the horrible double-take.' " Among the 200 works in the museum are Escher's most famous prints, including "Day and Night," which shows an interlacing pattern of black and white birds flying above a river valley, and the virtuoso "Hand With Reflecting Sphere," an unusual self-portrait.

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