Louise Bourgeois

Dafato Team | Feb 20, 2023

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Louise Bourgeois, born in Paris on December 25, 1911 and died in New York on May 31, 2010, was a French sculptor, draughtswoman, printmaker and visual artist, naturalized American.

She is best known for her sculpture and monumental installations. She explores themes such as the domestic universe, the family, the body, especially the sexual organs, while taking an approach that translates as a manifestation of the subconscious and the reactivation of memories from her childhood. She is close to the abstract expressionist and surrealist movements, as well as the feminist movement, but remains throughout her life unaffiliated with any particular movement.

Although born in France, Louise Bourgeois spent most of her artistic career in New York, where she settled in 1938 after marrying American art historian Robert Goldwater (1907-1973).

Her work as an artist is belatedly recognized and she is considered particularly influential on later generations of artists, especially women.


Louise Bourgeois was the second daughter of Louis Isidore Bourgeois (1884-1951) and Josephine Valerie Fauriaux (1879-1932). Her first name, Louise, according to her, was chosen by her mother as a tribute to Louise Michel, a historical figure of the Paris Commune. The family lived in Choisy-le-Roi, in the Paris suburbs, until 1919, when they moved to 11-13 rue d'Orléans or Grande rue, today avenue de la Division-Leclerc, in Antony in the Hauts-de-Seine.

His parents are restorers of antique tapestries. His father Louis Bourgeois held a gallery at 174, boulevard Saint-Germain next to the Café de Flore. He sells tapestries from Aubusson and the Gobelins. In their workshop at the family home in Choisy, Louise Bourgeois' mother, Josephine, directed the restoration and reweaving of damaged tapestries. At the age of ten, Louise began to help her parents with the tapestry designs and to make the missing feet and other designs when the designer Richard Guino was absent. This drawing work was her first contact with art: "When my parents asked me to replace Mr. Richard Guino, it gave dignity to my art. That's all I asked for."

The paternal grandparents lived on a farm in Clamart, and the family spent Sundays there. The maternal grandparents were from Aubusson and Louise's grandmother had her own tapestry workshop. They were followers of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, as well as Louise Michel and the communards.

In 1982, she published an illustrated account of her childhood in the American art magazine Artforum, entitled Child's Abuse, whose aesthetic is close to that of the Surrealist journals of the 1930s. In this text, she evokes an episode that has become a cornerstone of the criticism of Louise Bourgeois: during her adolescence, Sadie Gordon Richmond, who was the children's private English teacher, became her father's mistress. She lived in the family home for ten years and her mother turned a blind eye to the relationship. It was only in the 1980s that both biographical and psychoanalytical readings began to profoundly influence the reading of Louise Bourgeois' work, as she herself spoke of her work in terms of free association.


Louise Bourgeois was a student at the Lycée Fénelon in Paris. According to Xavier Girard, she accumulated prizes for excellence and zeros for conduct and was "gifted in math and descriptive geometry, a great reader, passionate about painting and music, and athletic." After graduating from this high school in 1932, she studied higher mathematics of geometry at the Sorbonne, hoping to find order and logic in her life. Bourgeois moves away from mathematics, too theoretical for her taste: "To express unbearable family tensions, it was necessary for my anxiety to be exercised on forms that I could change, destroy and rebuild," she says.

She began studying art in Paris, first at the Beaux-Arts. After 1932, she trained in the free academies of Montparnasse and Montmartre: Colarossi, Ranson, Julian, the Grande-Chaumière and in the studios of André Lhote, Fernand Léger Paul Colin and Cassandre, and from 1936 at the École du Louvre.

Later in New York she enrolled in evening classes at the Art Student League and attended the studio of Vaclav Vytlacil.

Family life

After the First World War, she accompanied her mother Joséphine to a spa, as she had contracted the Spanish flu in 1918 and was suffering from emphysema. In winter, the family lived in Nice from 1929 to 1932, in the villa Pompeiana on the hill of Cimiez. Their neighbor was the painter Pierre Bonnard, who had bought the villa Le Bosquet in Le Cannet in 1926. At the bedside of her dying mother, Louise takes her baccalaureate by correspondence. Joséphine died of her illness in 1932.

From 1936 to 1938, she lived in Paris at 31, rue de Seine, right next to André Breton's gallery. She opened a gallery selling paintings by Eugène Delacroix, Henri Matisse, Odilon Redon and Pierre Bonnard. In 1937, she met the American art historian Robert Goldwater. She married him and moved with him to New York the following year. It was there that she came into contact with the Surrealist milieu, most of whom had left France for the United States during the Second World War, and presented her first solo exhibition in 1945.

In the 1960s, she actively participated in the demands of the feminist movement.

She had three sons: Michel, whom she adopted in France in 1939 at the age of three, Jean-Louis, born in 1940, and Alain, born in 1941. At that time she suffered from homesickness, which had repercussions in her work. She moved with her family to 142 East 18th Street in the Stuyvesant Apartments. This building houses artists and their families and has studios on its roof. The couple buys a house in Connecticut for the summer vacations.


In 1951, after the death of her father, she began a psychoanalysis that lasted nearly 30 years, first with Leonard Camer, then with Henry Lowenfeld. She tries to overcome the suffering caused by the discovery that her father was cheating on her mother with her governess and English teacher. She saw her psychoanalyst four times a week, which would not be revealed until 2007 before her retrospective at the Tate Modern. By the time her analyst died, after 30 years of psychoanalytic treatment, she was well versed in psychoanalytic theories and even wrote an essay in 1990 entitled Freud's Toy.

"The truth is that Freud has done nothing for artists, nor for the problem of the artist, the torment of the artist - being an artist implies a certain suffering. That's why artists repeat themselves - because they don't have access to a cure."

She lived in the Chelsea district of New York, where she died on May 31, 2010.


Between the 1960s and 1982, Louise Bourgeois supported young women artists and participated in militant exhibitions of feminist art organized by the Women's Liberation Movement (MLF). However, she does not claim to be a feminist: "I am a woman, so I do not need to be a feminist" she said in an interview with Jacqueline Caux in 2003.

His last major installation, the Steilneset Memorial, commemorates the women persecuted and executed during the Vardø (en) witch trials in Norway.


The insignia of Knight of the Legion of Honor were awarded to him on September 21, 2008 in New York by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic.

Louise Bourgeois has worked particularly on the themes of universality, relationships between beings, love and frustration between lovers or members of the same family, and eroticism.

The beginnings: the "housewives

Louise Bourgeois began her career as an artist in New York in the 1940s.

Since his first drawings, paintings and engravings, his work has focused on the subject of procreation, birth and motherhood, and the self-portrait. The predominant theme of this period takes the form of "house-women", mixing the body with architecture, the organic with the geometric: brick bust, house with columns on the shoulders, rib cage in the form of stairs and doors. But the red thread of her work is the phallus (the father), which she calls "girl" and the spider (the mother). According to Louise Bourgeois herself, the spider represents the mother, "because my best friend was my mother, and she was as intelligent, patient, clean and useful, reasonable, indispensable as a spider. The spider is for her the symbol of the tapestries that her mother repaired (the spider's web) and of all that is related to it: needles, threads.

In this series of paintings the artist explores the relationship that a woman can have with her domestic space. The women's heads are replaced by houses, which isolates their bodies from the outside world and establishes the pre-eminence of the domestic sphere.

Totems: 1950s

In 1947 Louise Bourgeois began sculpting longitudinal wooden figures that she called characters. They have the appearance of sinuous and smooth totems, of surrealist inspiration. They are inscribed in the verticality and fragility, but also in the interactivity, referring to the difficulty that humans have to stay. At the time, Louise Bourgeois was suffering from homesickness, missing her family and friends since moving to New York. Her grouped staged totems allowed her to exorcise this suffering, her work being part of a relationship between the staged characters in the group and in the environment. The artist also approaches her work in an almost therapeutic dimension. She is interested in psychoanalysis and has read the works of Charcot.

The body

Between 1967 and 1968 Louise Bourgeois put female and male sexual organs in her work: penises in her 1968 sculpture entitled Fillette, immortalized in 1982 by Robert Mapplethorpe in a photograph of the artist with her work under her arm and in Janus in Leather Jacket, 1968, or clitorises in Femmes Couteau of 1970. The materials used to begin with are marble and bronze, materials that she later abandons for plaster that she covers with latex or plastic, wax or resin.

Destruction of the father

Destruction of the Father (1974) is a biographical and psychological exploration of the domination of the father. The piece is an installation in a womb-like room. Made of latex, wood and fabric with a red light, Destruction of the Father is the first work in which she uses malleable materials on a large scale. Upon entering the installation, the captive audience stands before a crime scene. Staged in a stylized dining room (with a bedroom) the abstracted children of an omnipotent father have rebelled and murdered and eaten him.

The artist exorcises and recreates his past in his work to be able to, in a way, settle his accounts with the humiliations suffered during his childhood. Her mocking and humiliating father is transformed into a giant sphinx with two breasts whose head is cut off in a cellar that is filled with phalluses and udders. In an interview with the New York Times, she says that the most important thing she has said is, "Art keeps us sane. "As an artist, I am a powerful person. In real life, I feel like a mouse behind a radiator."


In the last years of her life Louise Bourgeois produced two series of installations that she entitled Cells. Many of these installations are enclosures in which the public is invited to view an arrangement of symbolic objects; others are small rooms into which the public is invited to enter. In these works, Louise Bourgeois uses sculptural forms taken from earlier forms in her work, as well as found objects and personal effects that hold a strong emotional charge for the artist.

The Cells reproduce psychological and intellectual states, mainly fear and pain. Louise Bourgeois represents a multitude of themes and issues related to her life experiences. This is the case for one of them, a sculptural installation including a model of the family home and a guillotine, about which the artist said that "it is people who guillotine themselves in their own family".


Louise Bourgeois became interested in printmaking during the early and later phases of her career as an artist: in the 1930s and 1940s, when she arrived in New York and later when her work began to gain recognition. At first, she produced prints on a small press at home, or at the famous Atelier 17. This period was followed by a long pause, during which Louise Bourgeois turned her attention to sculpture. It was not until she was seventy years old that she began to make engravings again, encouraged by publishing houses specializing in engraving. She reinstalled her old press, and added a second one, while working in collaboration with engravers who came to her home. An active phase began for her in the field of engraving, which lasted until the end of her life. She created about 1,500 prints in total.

In 1990, Louise Bourgeois decided to donate the archive of her printmaking to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In 2013, the museum launched an online catalog raisonné of her prints. The site focuses on the creative process and places the artist's prints and illustrated books in the context of her overall production by including related works in other media but with identical themes. In 2014-2015, the institution organized the first exhibition of prints by the artist, The Prints of Louise Bourgeois.

In 1997, as part of a public commission, she produced an engraving in burin, drypoint, etching and aquatint entitled Lacs de Montagne for the Chalcographie du Louvre.

The consecration in the 1970s

Working away from the art scene, she had few solo exhibitions until a strong interest in her work emerged in the 1970s. The development of her work then took an entirely new turn. Not only did previously latent themes - femininity, sexuality, family, adolescence, loneliness - become omnipresent, but the way in which they were treated was entirely renewed, with sculpture-installations made with a wide variety of materials and objects, some of them personal.

She impregnates her works, in particular sculptural, of this psychic vein, resulting from her personal traumas. Fully aware of this dimension of her work, she is however very far from the literal representations which characterized, in particular, the surrealism in their relation to the unconscious, and opened in this direction a very avant-gardist way of the contemporary art. Her monumental sculptures of spiders, dreamlike constructions, are one of the best known examples.


In 1982-1983, the Museum of Modern Art gave him his first retrospective exhibition in New York.

In Paris, the Centre Pompidou organized, from March 5 to June 2, 2008, in collaboration with the Tate Modern in London, an exhibition of more than 200 works (paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, objects), a retrospective of Bourgeois' work. At the same time, the photographer Jean-François Jaussaud took photographs of the artist for publication in the magazine Connaissance des arts.

In 1990-1991, it was exhibited at the Antoni Tàpies Foundation in Barcelona.

A meeting with Tracey Emin shortly before his death ensured the completion of the 16 unfinished works. The result of her work is presented at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in London.

From March 18 to September 4, 2016, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao presents the most comprehensive exhibition ever of cells, titled "Structures of Existence: cells."

The artist's books in textile

The artist had a privileged relationship with textiles and needlework, in connection with her childhood, during which she was in charge of repairing tapestries to help her parents who were upholsterers. As an adult, the artist crystallized this notion of "repair" and continued to associate it with sewing. For her, it was also a way of expressing in her art work the way in which family members - and especially her own family - make connections, break them, and try to repair them.

It is at the end of his life, from the 1990s, that the use of textile materials will occupy a prominent place in the work of the artist. In particular with her installation Pink Days and Blue Days, a suspension of old clothes of adults and children on a steel structure, on bones acting as hangers. This will lead her, from 2001, to undertake projects of textile artists' books.

The MomA website lists this part of the artist's work in great detail. You can consult the scanned plates of the textile books illustrated and designed by Louise Bourgeois, sometimes in collaboration with other artists, poets and writers.

Louise Bourgeois collaborates with Paulo Herkenhoff (pt), who writes the text for his book The Laws of Nature, and with artist and writer Gary Indiana for To Whom It May Concern, who writes prose poems, meditations on sexuality, relationships, corporeality, linked to Bourgeois' prints.

The number of copies of each book published, as well as the way they were printed and manufactured, are also included in the MomA catalog. Indeed, depending on the subject of each of his books, the artist has used the textile medium in a different way.

Her book Ode to Oblivion is the first book Louise Bourgeois created using the textile collage technique. The pages are made from linen hand towels that the artist had kept from her wedding trousseau.

These towels are embroidered with the monogram "LBG" for "Louise Bourgeois Goldwater" (Goldwater was her husband's name), which serves as a signature for the work.

The textiles used for the collages were old clothes and household items that Louise owned and cut up. The artist hired a seamstress, Mercedes Katz, to help her bind her book.

In 2003-2004, the Peter Blum Edition (en), NY, published 25 copies (+14 "out of print") of this book. This time, the original copy was not scanned. The production process is different.

In order to make these copies as faithful as possible to the original, multiple stratagems were put in place. To reproduce the fabrics of the original, it was necessary to print on other fabrics using the technique of lithography, digital printing, dyeing, sewing, embroidery. Sometimes it was even necessary to find fabrics that resembled the original as much as possible.


The Museum of Modern Art (MomA) has published a catalog raisonné of the engraved work of Louise Bourgeois.


  1. Louise Bourgeois
  2. Louise Bourgeois (plasticienne)
  3. ^ a b c d e Deborah, Wye (2017). Louise Bourgeois : an unfolding portrait : prints, books, and the creative process. Lowry, Glenn D.,, Gorovoy, Jerry,, Harlan, Felix,, Shiff, Ben,, Kang, Sewon,, Bourgeois, Louise, 1911–2010. New York, New York. ISBN 978-1-63345-041-7. OCLC 973157279.
  4. ^ Christiane., Weidemann (2008). 50 women artists you should know. Larass, Petra., Klier, Melanie, 1970–. Munich: Prestel. ISBN 978-3-7913-3956-6. OCLC 195744889.
  5. ^ "The Spider's Web". The New Yorker. 28 January 2002. Retrieved 4 February 2002.
  6. ^ a b c d McNay, Michael (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
  7. ^ Greenberg, J (2003) Runaway Girl: The Artist Louise Bourgeois. Harry N. Abrams, Inc p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8109-4237-0
  8. Elle a acquis la nationalité américaine en 1955[3]
  9. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=53102684
  10. «Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010». theartnewspaper. 4 de junio de 2010. Archivado desde el original el 14 de julio de 2014. Consultado el 8 de julio de 2014.
  11. «Maman». Collections. The National Gallery of Canada. Archivado desde el original el 4 de marzo de 2017. Consultado el 21 de enero de 2014.
  12. Louise Bourgeois – Video bei Youtube (französisch)

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