The Art Story Resource on Modern Art Modern Art News
Movements in Modern ArtArtists in Modern ArtTimelines of Modern ArtIdeas & Critics in Modern Art Current Events and Exhibitions related to Modern Art

Modern Artist: Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois is one of the last surviving modernist artists who vividly recalls Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. She has exhibited and known artists from Duchamp to Pollock, and has survived to see the influence of her own work manifested in feminist-inspired art, as well as the development of installation art. Her artistic career, now spanning 80 years, has varied widely in her use of materials, which has constantly explored the sensuous properties of those chosen. Themes of the unconscious, fear, anger, and betrayal have also persevered throughout her work.

Key Ideas / Information
  • Bourgeois's artwork is renowned for its highly personal thematic content involving love traumas, sexual fetish, and the body. She has always considered art-making a therapeutic process.
  • Mythological and archetypal imagery figures heavily into Bourgeois' artwork. She has adopted such objects as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological trauma, and has never been shy about sharing her private stories with the public to elucidate her highly personal visual language.
  • Formally, Bourgeois' sculptures playfully challenge notions of sturdiness, stiffness, and large scale. She often uses soft materials and fabrics alongside hard metals or woods to imply universal balance, and she has made works out of carved alabaster, cast bronze, pillow forms, dolls, wood, and more. She is also renowned for her usage of space, and has often suspended works from the ceiling, but has also positioned them traditionally, to be viewed in the round on the floor.

Louise Bourgeois lived outside of Paris where her parents ran a tapestry workshop. Throughout her childhood, Louise was recruited to draw and dye fabrics, developing an early appreciation for Art Deco patterns before she enrolled at the Ecole Nationale d'Art Decoratif in 1932. Problems in the household, such as her father's mistress residing with the Bourgeois family, would come to inform Bourgeois' artwork, which is highly diaristic. Many of her works focus on sexual desire and confusion, and she has said that many of them stem from early childhood narratives.

Early Training
Bourgeois had a wide-ranging education. After studying decorative arts, she studied math at the Sorbonne and philosophy at the University of Paris, where she wrote her dissertation on Emmanuel Kant. Her first Parisian apartment was in the same building as André Breton's gallery, Gradiva. Her exhibition career began in 1938, when she opened her own gallery, in her father's tapestry showroom, exhibiting prints and paintings by such luminaries as Eugene Delacroix and Odilon Redon. Through her short career as an art dealer, she met art historian Robert Goldwater, who she married, and together they relocated to New York.

Mature Period
Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Goldwater introduced Bourgeois to a plethora of New York artists, such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Louise Nevelson, as well as critics and art dealers like Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim. Bourgeois birthed three children, and beginning in 1941, she built totemic, wooden, abstract sculptures in homage to her friends that she placed on the roof her of Manhattan apartment building. This series, called Personages, along with her early paintings, were exhibited in context with other Abstract Expressionist artists, like Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. Bourgeois garnered attention as a sculptor whose Primitivism was compared to Pollock's. Her subject matter was her own psyche, an endless realm to tap for symbols related to femininity and motherhood. Though her artwork in this period was mostly abstract, she did make a series of figurative paintings, Les Femmes Maisons, which involved female torsos and legs attached to houses, implying her feelings about domesticity, living in a foreign country, and her pride in motherhood.

Late Period
Not until the 1960s did Bourgeois begin experimenting with latex, plaster, and rubber. During this period, her Soft and Hard Landscapes were so sexually referential that critics and fans imbued her work with deep psychological import and linked Bourgeois' work to Surrealism. This was apt, as Bourgeois had lived in Paris above Breton, and curated an exhibition with Marcel Duchamp called Documents, France, 1940-1944: Art-Literature-Press of the French Underground. Also during the 1960s and 70s, Bourgeois became a politically active Socialist Feminist, and made several sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as her Fillettes. In the 1980s and 90s, Bourgeois built large-scale installations full of symbolic objects representing psychoanalytic ideas related to violence, sexuality, and Oedipal complexes. These themes run through Bourgeois' work to the present. Bourgeois lived a highly productive 98 years and died of a heart attack in her New York home in 2010.

Bourgeois lived through Surrealism in France and Abstract Expressionism in New York. Her work helped inform the burgeoning feminist art movement, and continues to influence feminist-inspired work and installation art. Her work has always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 90-plus years, she has produced an astounding body of sculptures, drawings, books, prints, and installations. Recently, the Guggenheim launched a major American retrospective, which traveled to Los Angeles and then Washington D.C. She lived many years in New York City, where until very recently she held salons in her apartment amongst artists, in keeping with French Surrealist traditions.

Below are Louise Bourgeois' major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.

Odilon Redon
Pierre Bonnard
Max Ernst
Gertrude Stein
John Cage
Robert Goldwater
Marcel Duchamp
Peggy Guggenheim
Joan Miró
Louise Bourgeois
Years Worked: 1911 - present
Eva Hesse
Bruce Nauman
Lynda Benglis
Guerilla Girls
Sophie Calle
Feminist Art
Installation Art

"Expose a contradiction, that is all you need."

We need your donation to maintain and grow The Art Story. Click here to help us.

Artwork Artwork Artwork
Artwork Artwork Artwork
See additional works by this artist
Museum of Modern Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Whitney Museum

Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art
Mignon Nixon

Written by Artist
Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father
Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997
Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois (Rizzoli)

Louise Bourgeois
Robert Storr, Paulo Herkenhoff

Louise Bourgeois: Aller-Retour
Louise Bourgeois, Gerald Matt

Louise Bourgeois
Biography. Documentary Film

Louise Bourgeois's 'Cells'
Looking at Bourgeois through Irigaray's Gesturing Towards the Mother

Louise Bourgeois Retrospective
Washington DC News, Food, Arts & Events

A year of events celebrating her life and work

Louise Bourgeois - Interview with Artist
Oct, 1997

Audio Clips
Guggenheim Bilbao's audio clip related to Maman

Video Clips
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine

Art:21 | Louise Bourgeois
Bourgeois is featured in the Season 1 episode "Identity" of the Art21 series "Art:21 -- Art in the Twenty-First Century"