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Louise Bourgeois Photo

Louise Bourgeois

French-American Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Body Art, Installation Art, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: December 25, 1911 - Paris, France

Died: May 31, 2010 - New York, New York, USA

Louise Bourgeois Timeline

Important Art by Louise Bourgeois

The below artworks are the most important by Louise Bourgeois - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Femme Maison (1946-47)
Artwork Images

Femme Maison (1946-47)

Artwork description & Analysis: This series dealt with the dramatic changes in Bourgeois's private life in the early 1940s: marriage and domesticity, living in a foreign country, and mothering three children. Each drawing or painting in the series depicts a nude female figure whose head has been replaced by architectural forms that resemble houses. Bourgeois struggled to live up to her idealized memory of her own mother. These works suggest that she felt both trapped and exposed by the domestic responsibilities that consumed her life as she wrestled with finding her artistic voice.

The Blind Leading the Blind (1947-49)
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The Blind Leading the Blind (1947-49)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Blind Leading the Blind, constructed from pointed wooden planks attached to a flat beam, is an early sculpture in which Bourgeois used abstract forms to express personal feelings about her parents. The artist likens this piece to a table under which she spent time watching her parents' legs move across the room. Moreover, she recalls this memory as an unpleasant one, as she felt alienated from her parents and sought refuge under furniture.

Painted wood - Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Hauser & Wirth

Femme Volage (Fickle Woman) (1951)
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Femme Volage (Fickle Woman) (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: Femme Volage is part of Bourgeois's Personnages series, made between 1945 and 1955. The series includes approximately 80 standing sculptures touching on the autobiographical themes that occupied Bourgeois throughout her career. Each piece resembled or recalled a person known to the artist. These abstract totemic figures were shown with no bases and were arranged in clusters that for Bourgeois referenced a reconstruction of the past. Femme Volage is a fractured piece made up of stacked wooden forms on a central rod that resembles a needle or spindle, tools that likely reference her mother's work as a weaver. This work also shows her early interest in the spiral form.

Painted wood and stainless steel - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Forêt (Night Garden) (1953)
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Forêt (Night Garden) (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work evolved from Bourgeois's Personnages, but whereas the earlier works were rigid and singular, Forêt shows what Bourgeois referred to as a "softening" in her work stemming "from the softness of my children and of my husband ... I got the nerve to look around me, to let go. Not to be so nervous. Not to be so tense." These less severe, often bulbous and increasingly biomorphic shapes would come to define her work and indicate the enduring influence Surrealism had upon her. In Forêt, unlike in Personnages, the wooden forms are placed together on a single base and suggest human figures or even plant forms huddled together. The artist leaves it to the viewer's imagination to decide if one is being excluded from this group, or if these are figures banding together for protection and intimacy.

Painted wood - The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Soft Landscape I (1967)
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Soft Landscape I (1967)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the 1960s, Bourgeois shifted from working with wood to other materials such as plaster, cement, aluminum, and latex. In 1967, she created The Landscape series, which consisted of amorphous shapes rather than the stiff, upright forms of the previous decade. Soft Landscape I was made by pouring caramel-colored resin over biomorphic forms that resemble a landscape. Indeed, Bourgeois described the bubbling and sprouting figures in this series as inspired both by the human body and by landscape, saying that the "body could be considered from a topological point of view, a landscape with mounds and valleys and caves and holes, so it seems rather evident . . . that our body is a figuration that appears in Mother Earth." Other pieces in the series play with the disruption of the soft/hard binary. In the End of Softness (1967), for example, gentle biomorphic forms are made of bronze.

Plastic - Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve and Hauser & Wirth

Fillette (1968)
Artwork Images

Fillette (1968)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of Bourgeois's most famous works. The piece showcases her use of biomorphic imagery as well as her experiments with and distortions of both male and female anatomy, often to the point that they become indistinguishable. Here, the testicles can also be read as breasts and the erect penis can be seen as a neck. The bizarre juxtaposition of the title, which means little girl in English, and the priapism of the work suggests a girl metamorphosed into that which threatens her. In one version, the piece hangs from a hook and thus references castration; in the second version, the piece is being carried. Bourgeois was photographed doing the latter in a famous photograph of her by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982).

Latex over plaster - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Destruction of the Father (1974)
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The Destruction of the Father (1974)

Artwork description & Analysis: This was Bourgeois's first installation piece at a time when installation art was in its infancy and was being used by feminists such as Judy Chicago. The work was also Bourgeois's first to explicitly reveal her anger over her father's infidelity, which was an underlying motivation for much of her work. Relying on the soft forms of her Landscape series and her often explicit body imagery, the work reenacts a childhood fantasy wherein she takes revenge on her father, who always gloated and bragged at the dinner table. A life-size dining table in a cave or womb-like space is covered with flesh-colored anthropomorphic forms that appear like dismembered body parts as well as actual joints of lamb, which underscore implied violence. The scene is bathed in a soft red light that symbolizes anger, death, and blood, inviting the viewer to witness the aftermath of the killing.

Plaster, latex, wood, fabric

Maman (1999)
Artwork Images

Maman (1999)

Artwork description & Analysis: The spider first appears in Bourgeois's work in the 1940s, and had explicit, positive associations for the artist, who saw the spider as a symbol of her mother. Bourgeois is explicit about this connection: "The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. . . Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother." Bourgeois made spiders in a wide variety of media and ranging in size from a four-inch brooch to Maman, a sculpture over 30-foot-tall, which includes a sack containing 17 gray and white marble eggs, and is so large that it can only be installed outdoors. Though the earliest examples of spiders in Bourgeois's work are found in two drawings from 1947, she focused on the theme most consistently in the 1990s, at the end of her life, when she was no doubt consumed with memories of her mother and her childhood.

Bronze, stainless steel, marble

Spiral Woman (2003)
Artwork Images

Spiral Woman (2003)

Artwork description & Analysis: Spiral Woman, a hanging doll, showcases Bourgeois's longstanding interest in both dollmaking and the spiral form, as seen in the much earlier Femme Volage (1951). Like Hans Bellmer's poupées, the figures in the Spiral Woman series offer distorted, Surrealist-inspired visions of the human body. The 2003 version pictured here is headless with feminine curves, but its spiral form connotes a masculine form, underscoring the overlap of male and female anatomy in her work. As with so much of Bourgeois's oeuvre, the spiral had autobiographical significance for her, as she stated in the following: "It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them. . . Later I would dream of my father's mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral - I love the spiral - represents control and freedom."

Fabric - Cheim & Read



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Louise Bourgeois Photo

Related Art and Artists

Promenade des nourrices, fries des fiacres (Nannies Promenade, Frieze of Carriages) (1897)

Promenade des nourrices, fries des fiacres (Nannies Promenade, Frieze of Carriages) (1897)

Artist: Pierre Bonnard

Artwork description & Analysis: This four-paneled work is characterized by its understatement, economy of line, and rhythm. Bonnard places his figures asymmetrically and balances them against the empty space. The decorative use of silhouette is influenced by both the Art Nouveau style and of Japanese prints. Bonnard here employs a great economy of means - accomplishing many effects with only a few elements. An example of this would be the way the artist lets white function in multiple ways: it fills in the faces and it is worked into the figures' costumes. The animated linear arabesque of the dog functions in such a way as to suggest volume. Through the distortion of form for decorative effect, Bonnard has created a world of decorative unreality that asserts the two-dimensionality of the wall, thus uniting art and architecture.

Color lithograph - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The King Playing with the Queen (1944)
Artwork Images

The King Playing with the Queen (1944)

Artist: Max Ernst

Artwork description & Analysis: Among the mediums in which Ernst excelled was sculpture, such as in this prominent bronze. Similar to fellow Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, Ernst fancied chess playing as an art form unto itself. Ernst would often title his works with irrational titles, or tongue-in-cheek puns playing with words. Here, the enlarged king (most likely Ernst himself) plays with his diminutive queen (possibly his wife Dorothea Tanning) who herself is somewhat larger than the other pieces. The words "playing with" in the title might refer to sexual playing and games between the newlyweds, as well as the establishing of domestic order of married life.World War II was at its height in 1944 when Ernst along with Tanning spent the summer on Long Island as the guest of gallery owner Julien Levy; there, the couple often played chess. Ernst began a thorough examination into the intricacies of this game against the backdrop of global warfare. Earlier, in 1929, Ernst first modeled chess pieces that he turned into sculptures; he designed and executed several complete chessboards as well. Ernst's turn to chess as an artistic subject in the mid-1940s went beyond the technical merits of the game, instead probing what he thought were the game's literary and magical associations.

Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Priere de Toucher (Please Touch) (1947)
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Priere de Toucher (Please Touch) (1947)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

Artwork description & Analysis: Priere de Toucher (Please Touch) was designed by Duchamp to accompany the seminal 1947 International Surrealist exhibition he co-curated with André Breton. For the limited edition of the exhibition catalogue, Duchamp and the Surrealist artist Enrico Donati hand-colored 999 foam rubber "falsies," or false breasts, to glue onto black velvet which adhered to the removable book covers. This catalogue, the exhibition it was based on, and a future exhibition on which Duchamp and Breton collaborated yet again, "Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme (1959-60)," mark Duchamp's thematic overlap with the Surrealists, namely an obsession with eroticism.

Book with latex breast - Philadelphia Museum of Art

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