Considered to be one of the major artists of the 20th century, Louise Bourgeois and her autobiographical works have had a huge impact on the artistic sphere for decades. Today, KAZoART returns to this woman artist, who made her personal life her main source of inspiration. Come and discover her arsenal of cathartic and multifaceted works!

The Rise of Louise Bourgeois’ Artistic Career 

Born in Paris in 1911, Louise Bourgeois grew up in a family of antique tapestry restorers. From an early age, she helped her parents in this meticulous and intricate craft.

After her baccalaureate (GCE A-Levels, SAT’s), Louise began studying mathematics at the Sorbonne. In the 1930s, she finally enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, before taking courses at the École du Louvre.

Increasingly more and more invested in art, young Louise would visit the Salons and studios of fashionable Parisian artists. It was at these kind of places that she met the likes of Fernand Léger and André Lhote.

Louise Bourgeois dans son atelier de New-York, 1946 / Source : NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art)
Louise Bourgeois in her New York studio, 1946 / Source : NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art)

At the age of 27, she married Robert Goldwater, an American art historian. They moved to New York together the year after their marriage.

It was in New York that Louise began her career as a visual artist. She tried to make a name for herself in the circle of surrealists. In the Big Apple, she befriended Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro and also Marcel Duchamp

3 Things to Know about Louise Bourgeois 

1. An artist who Fought for Women’s Rights

From the very beginning of her artistic career in New York, Louise Bourgeois illustrated more intimate and personal subjects such as maternity, femininity and self-portraiture.

It was during this period that the French-American visual artist created the “Femmes Maisons“ (“Women Houses“) series. These works blend the female body with different kinds of architectural structures. 

Louise Bourgeois, série Ensemble de Femmes maisons, 1945-1947 ©The Easton Foundation
Louise Bourgeois, Ensemble de Femmes maisons (Women Houses series), 1945-1947 ©The Easton Foundation 

Thus, her works, which question the place and role of women in society and in the domestic sphere, are almost by definition committed to the feminine cause.

Moreover, the artist participates on several occasions in militant exhibitions organized by the Women’s Liberation Movement. This movement claims that women have the freedom to do what they want with their own bodies. Through this approach, Louise Bourgeois, serves the female cause with her pieces loaded with social commentary.  

Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison, 1994 ©Christopher Burke
Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison, 1994 ©Christopher Burke

Although artistically committed to women and their fight for equality and freedom, Louise Bourgeois has never claimed to be a feminist, considering that she never felt the need to do so. 

The artist explains

“I am a woman, therefore I don’t need to be a feminist.

Interview with Jacqueline Caux, 2003

2. The Spider as a Maternal Figure

At the end of the 1990s, Louise Bourgeois turned to the figure of the spider, to which she quickly attributed a very strong sense of symbolism

In 1999, she created a monumental sculpture, taking the shape of a gigantic spider – which she named « Maman » (“mother“). This spider is without a doubt the artist’s most famous work!

Made of bronze or stainless steel, the spiders placed all over the world have dimensions that mesure about 10 meters in hight as in width. Within its abdomen, the spider clutches a bag containing 26 eggs made out of white marble

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, Tate Moderne, Londres
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, Tate Moderne, London

This spider refers to Louise Bourgeois’ respect for her mother, whom she lost at the age of 20. It also metaphorically depicts her own mother’s story

Indeed, just as the spider weaves its web, Louise’s mother wove tapestries. While the spider may inspire disgust and terrify, Louise’s spider symbolizes the figure of her Mother and takes on an entirely positive, reassuring and protective connotation.

The Artist explains…

“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 intelligent. Spiders are friendly presences that feed on mosquitoes […]. They are useful and protective, just like my mother.

Louise Bourgeois / Source : Press Release, Tate Museum

3. Her Art as an Outlet for her Traumas

Louise Bourgeois’ work is highly cathartic. It allows her to exorcise the traumas of her childhood and sooth her psychological troubles. Thus, she considers her art as incredibly therapeutic

As a child, she discovered that her father was cheating on her mother with their housekeeper. Louise felt a visceral hatred towards her father who was very harsh and malicious man.

Her autobiographical work is a reflection of her pain and unhappiness. Her father thus became a rather big source of inspiration. In her works, Louise Bourgeois desecrates the father figure.

Louise Bourgeois, La Destruction du Père, 1974 ©Stephane de Sakutin
Louise Bourgeois, Destruction of the Father, 1974 ©Stephane de Sakutin

The sculpture entitled “Destruction of the Father“, which Louise created in 1974, seems to be one of her more cathartic works.

This work features organic forms, such as pieces of the human body arranged on a table, in a darkened room. One can make out phallic forms, breasts, pieces of brain matter, along with other pieces of the human anatomy. With this piece, was Louise finally able to take revenge and “murder” her father?

After her father’s death, the artist began a form of psychoanalytic therapy which would go on for more than 30 years. Her goal was to understand and overcome this deep trauma.

Louise Bourgeois was a committed artist who practiced autobiographical and therapeutic art, which was both very accessible to a wider audience yet remained very intimate. The artist has greatly inspired many contemporary women artists to this day, and helped them assert their style and artistic practice in an unapologetic and unashamed way!

Women Artists on KAZoART