Escher Museum
2011 AFP

Dutch artist M.C. Escher was a master of creating optical illusions, and now the Escher Museum in The Hague is accused of creating illusions of their own.

The curator of the M.C. Escher Foundation, which was set up in 1968 by the artist himself, claims the majority of the works on display in The Hague’s Escher in het Paleis (Escher in the Palace) museum are replicas.

The whole ordeal started when Wim van Krimpen, the founder of the Escher in het Paleis museum, organized an exhibition of Escher’s work as part of the Amsterdam Art Fair. When the Foundation, which owns the copyright to Escher’s art, wanted to know the origin of the prints in the exhibition, van Krimpen revealed that the art that would be on display was merely reproductions. He then admitted that the museum had always displayed copies—which was unwelcome news to the Foundation.

No one contends that the museum, which is one of The Hague’s top tourist attractions, doesn’t actually own originals of Escher’s complex, mathematical opus, but they choose to lend the originals to other museums. For example, many of the museum’s holdings are part of The Amazing World of M.C. Escher, which is coming to London soon. While its originals travel the world, the museum fills its own halls with replicas, charging visitors nine Euros to look at what are essentially high-quality posters.

While lending pieces is a common practice among museums, usually when a work is taken off display or temporarily replaced with a replica, most museums put up a notice informing visitors of the fact. According to the Escher Foundation, the museum never did that. While the museum claims to post a disclaimer at the entrance, Dutch language paper De Volkskrant, who broke the story, did not see such a sign when visiting the museum, not that the Foundation agrees with the practice anyway.

Future use of replicas in the museum is still to be determined. The Escher in het Paleis Museum claims to be entitled to use replicas per their contract with the Foundation, while the Foundation interprets their agreement to only allow replicas when a work is being repaired and with proper notice to visitors.

As the two organizations determine their relationship status (it’s complicated!), Escher lovers may still want to visit the Museum. Just last month a previously unknown work by Escher was discovered and added to the collection.