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Louise Bourgeois Photo

Louise Bourgeois - Biography and Legacy

French-American Sculptor

Born: December 25, 1911 - Paris, France
Died: May 31, 2010 - New York, New York, USA

Biography of Louise Bourgeois


Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and named after her father Louis, who had wanted a son. Most of the year, her family lived in the fashionable St. Germain in an apartment above the gallery where her parents sold their tapestries. The family also had a villa and workshop in the countryside where they spent their weekends restoring antique tapestries. Throughout her childhood, Bourgeois was recruited to help in the workshop by washing, mending, sewing, and drawing, overseen by her mother Josephine, with whom she was very close. As an adolescent, Bourgeois attended the elite Lycee Fenelon in Paris.

Despite all appearances pointing to a thriving family in which the young artist was exposed to certain privileges, there were persistent tensions in the household. This was due to the fact that her father's mistress (who was also Bourgeois' tutor) resided with the family. This circumstance marked the pivotal trauma that would later come to inform Bourgeois' highly autobiographical artworks surrounding family, motherhood, relationships, fidelity, abandonment, the body, and trust.

Early Training

Bourgeois received an extensive education. In the early 1930s, she studied math and philosophy at the Sorbonne, where she wrote her thesis on Blaise Pascal and Emmanuel Kant. After the death of her mother in 1932, she began studying art, enrolling in several schools and ateliers between 1934 and 1938, including the École des Beaux-Arts, the Academie Ranson, the Academie Julian, and the Academie de la Grande-Chaumiere. Her first Paris apartment was on the rue de Seine in the same building as André Breton's Galerie Gradiva, where she became familiar with the work of the Surrealists. In 1938, she began exhibiting her work at the Salon d'Automne and opened her own gallery in a sectioned-off area of her father's tapestry showroom, exhibiting prints and paintings. Through this short stint as an art dealer, she met and married art historian Robert Goldwater, with whom she'd relocate to New York City later that year.

Mature Period

Bourgeois's <i>Eyes</i> sculpture in Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway

Upon arrival in New York, Bourgeois enrolled at the Art Students League and focused her attention on printmaking and painting. She also had three children over a four-year period. Throughout the 1940s and '50s, Goldwater introduced Bourgeois to a plethora of New York artists, critics, and dealers, including most importantly, Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, who bought one of her works for its collection in 1953. In the late '40s and '50s, she had several solo shows in various New York galleries. Her husband received a Fulbright grant and they returned with their children to France in the early 1950s, during which time her father died. Bourgeois began psychoanalysis in 1952, which she continued on and off until 1985. In the 1960s, she began experimenting with latex, plaster, and rubber, and also traveled to Italy, where she worked with marble and bronze.

Late Period

Bourgeois' husband died in 1973, the same year she began teaching at various institutions in New York City, including the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn College, and Cooper Union. It was during this time that she started hosting Sunday salons in her Chelsea apartment, which would become legendary. At these intimate sessions, students and young artists would bring their work to be critiqued by Bourgeois, who could be ruthless, referring to the gatherings, with characteristically dry humor, as "Sunday, bloody Sunday." Nevertheless, her accessibility and willingness to advise younger artists was exceptional for an established artist of such standing.

She also participated in several exhibits in the 1970s and '80s and began presenting performance pieces. In the 1970s, Bourgeois became politically active as a socialist and a feminist. She joined the Fight Censorship Group, which defended the use of sexually explicit imagery in art, and made several of her own sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as Fillette (1968). Marking her prestige in the art world, Bourgeois had her first retrospective in 1982 at MoMA, which was the first given to a female artist at that institution. In 1993, Bourgeois, who became an American citizen in 1955, was chosen to represent the USA in the Venice Biennale. She died in 2010.

The Legacy of Louise Bourgeois

A powerful <i>Maman</i> sculpture dominates lake-side Zurich in 2011.

Bourgeois' work always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 98 years, she produced an astounding body of sculptures, drawings, books, prints, and installations.

Bourgeois' work helped inform the burgeoning feminist art movement and continues to influence feminist-inspired work and Installation Art. The first Assemblages of Louise Nevelson, for example, were produced a few years after Bourgeois had been experimenting with similar environments, such as Bourgeois' Blind Leading the Blind (1947-49) and Night Garden (1953). Her focus on both male and female genitalia during the 1960s was an important precursor to Feminist artists such as Lynda Benglis and Judy Chicago, whose works address similar interests.

Her work on diffusing the complexities surrounding sexuality, processing its strands in our lives, and dissecting the reverberations of its presence on our emotional, intellectual, and physical existence has informed male artists as well, like Robert Mapplethorpe, who has given her credit for opening up new ways to consider the body, its relations, and its unique identity in his own photography.

Her marriage of tapestry and fabric with sculptural principles has also been seen in the world of fashion, as noted designers such as Comme Des Garcons and Simon Rocha, conceived collections based on her interconnecting shapes and forms.

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Louise Bourgeois Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 24 May 2014. Updated and modified regularly
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