Fortunately, the Escher market is not plagued with forgeries as are, for instance, the Dali and Chagall markets, most likely because the number of original Escher prints in existence is comparatively very small, so false prints are quickly recognized.

Well-publicized have been small-format unsigned wood-engravings created by Earl Washington, which were originally offered by him as originals. These are obvious forgeries, generally the wrong size, and the image not corresponding even to illustrations in the catalogue raisonné of Escher prints by Bool. A useful summary of this history is available from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_M._Washington

Of the large-format modern prints, only a very few have been forged:

1) The lithograph ORDER AND CHAOS II also known as CONTRAST II or COMPASROOS (Bool 402) has been forged. So far three such examples have come out of Holland. These prints are easily identifiable as reproductions when compared with known originals.

2) Photocopies alleged to be original examples of the woodcuts SELF PORTRAIT 1923 (Bool 100) and DREAM (Bool 272) have been offered from California.

The most difficult situation arises with forged examples of the very early small-format prints of which very few reference examples exist. Among these over the decades have been WHITE CAT (Bool 28), WILD WEST (Bool 48), a few individual woodcuts from the FLOR DE PASCUA SERIES (Bool 65A – 83), and SEATED NUDE (Bool 85).

4) A truly terrifying situation arose a few years ago when a printer in Wisconsin offered a completely forged and bound SCHOLASTICA book (Bool 188-205) and individual plates from REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE (Bool 416-421), neither of which could not be identified from a distance of ten feet by expert eyes, and which had to be examined closely.

How can one protect oneself against buying a forgery? Unfortunately, the state of the art is so good that it is no longer a question of just measuring. One must be an expert or consult an expert. As always in the collectibles market, buying from a reputable established dealer is safest.


Copyrights to Escher images and writings, as well as trademark of the term M.C. Escher, are owned by the Veldhuysen family of Baarn, The Netherlands, doing business formerly as Cordon Art BV, and presently as the M.C. Escher Foundation and The Escher Company BV. Persons wishing to reproduce Escher images or writings commercially must apply to them for permission: http://www.mcescher.com

Reproduction of Escher images on “product” such as T-shirts, neckties, beer mugs, scarves, posters, in books, etc. has nothing to do with forgeries of the original artwork; those are two entirely separate issues. 

The copyright situation two decades ago was unclear. Escher sold his prints in the United States without putting copyright notices on them, thus apparently putting popular images such as DAY AND NIGHT, WATERFALL, PUDDLE and DRAWING HANDS into public domain in the U.S. When an image falls under public domain, no permission is needed from a copyright holder to reproduce it. Nevertheless, from the time of its purchase from the Escher heirs in the mid 1980’s of whatever copyrights existed, Cordon Art claimed worldwide copyright to all Escher images, including in the United States, and charged royalties in connection with their reproduction in various media, such as posters, books, T-shirts, neckties, beer mugs, etc.

In the early 1990’s we (Walker Fine Art) did a series of exhibitions in private venues in Albuquerque, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Winston-Salem, and Madison. We believed that the claim that the popular Escher images were subject to copyright was not valid, and we decided to test the question of whether or not they were in public domain. With the suggestion of specialized copyright attorneys, we proceeded to reproduce Escher images on ballpoint pens and ceramic cups, tiles, watches, T-shirts and umbrellas. In 1996 (not last year) Cordon Art filed against us for copyright infringement. The issue was not forgery of original prints; neither the folks in Holland nor anyone else has ever accused us of forgery. Unfortunately for us, they prevailed in the copyright litigation because of a stroke of unanticipated good luck: under a provision in the Uruguay round of the GATT Treaty, foreigners who lost copyrights because of their failure to affix copyright notices to the images regained valid copyrights. This was precisely the situation with Escher, and the court accordingly ruled against us on that basis. Our case was the first time that the issue of reversion of copyrights had been tested. It took two decades, but this issue finally reached the Supreme Court of the United States this year and was adjudicated in the case of Golan versus Holder. At issue was the question of whether a law can remove images from public domain and grant copyright to them after they have been in public domain. The ruling was 6 to 2, with Justice Ginsburg writing the majority opinion and Justices Alito and Breyer dissenting. As a result, not only are Escher images now clearly subject to copyright, but also, for instance, is Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. To quote the Wikipedia article on the subject: Golan v. Holder[1]565 U.S. ___ (2012), was a United States Supreme Court case case originally filed in 2001 challenging the constitutionality of the application of Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, a treaty seeking to equalize copyright protection on an international basis. In the United States, the Act restored copyright status to foreign works previously in the public domain. The two main arguments against the application of the Act in the case were that restoring copyright violates the "limited time" language of the United States Constitution's Copyright Clause, and that restoring to copyright works that had passed into the public domain interferes with the peoples' First Amendment right to use, copy and otherwise exploit the works and to freely express themselves through these works, thus also violating the Constitution's Copyright Clause.[2]

The US Supreme Court held on January 18, 2012 that Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act does not exceed Congress's authority under the Copyright Clause, and the court affirmed the judgment of the lower court by 6-2, with the opinion written by Justice Ginsburg.[2] The practical effect of the decision is that works that were once free to use, such as Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, are no longer in the public domain, with the result that if used, are now subject to use only with the permission of the copyright holder, such as in paid licensing rather than without compensation to the copyright holder.

Getting back to our case in the 1990s, the Court also ruled, for just the second time, following the Jim Henson ruling, that Escher prints are “derived” from the printing plates used to print them, and since the printing plates themselves are allegedly subject to copyright, the prints “derived” from them are also subject to copyright; we did not contest this claim because we had already lost the case on the basis of the GATT Treaty reversion. Whether or not the argument regarding derivatives would hold up on appeal is unknown at this time, but the issue as regards copyrights of Escher images again is moot because the reversion provision under GATT has been affirmed by the highest court of the land.