Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)


Lot 667. Louise Bourgeois (France/USA 1911‑2010). Untitled. Signed with monogram LB. Watercolour, coloured pencil and pencil, 41.5 x 30.5 cm.

Executed in 1997.

SEK 500.000 – 600.000
€ 48.000 – 58.000

Cheim & Read Gallery, New York.

In context:

Much has been said about French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, best known for her large-scale sculptures and installation art. These mediums aside, she was also nonetheless a prolific painter and printmaker. Bourgeois attended several different art academies and artist’s ateliers in Paris during the 1930’s, and took classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, the École des Beaux-Arts and the École du Louvre. Relocating to New York in 1938, she began making prints while enrolled at the Art Students League. Upon her arrival in the United States, she felt close to the abstract expressionist movement, and in 1945 she had her first solo exhibition of paintings at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery. Although not formally affiliated with a particular artistic movement, by the 1960’s her style at the time was coined “eccentric abstraction”, a term invented by art critic Lucy Lippard to describe an organic and biomorphic abstraction hinging on sensuality.

Discussing the themes of Bourgeois’ work is virtually impossible without maintaining a biographical position. As Marie-Laure Bernadac reverently demonstrates in her comprehensive study on the artist from 1996, Bourgeois’ art and life are inseparable as the lives of her works and her own personal history are closely imbricated. Bourgeois both stresses her years spent in France, but also her exile in the United States as crucial to her artistic development. There are certain recurrent themes in her work, most commonly her childhood, the house, the past, maternity, femaleness and sexuality. The latter ones subsequently giving her a special status, stemming from her feminist stance, as a figurehead by many artists interested in the attributes of femininity.

Throughout the 1960’s, which in retrospect has to be seen as her most erotically charged working period, Bourgeois experimented with diverse forms and materials. The 1970’s became a social and political awakening for many, including Bourgeois. Bringing forth several key works in that emotionally and politically charged climate, the end of the decade finally culminated in public recognition of her work. In the 1980’s, Bourgeois started returning to the figurative, but the representational and abstract forms were often combined. Her work in the 1990’s, then over eighty years old, were mostly coordinated around major international shows and in 1994 she installed her first large-scale spider at the Brooklyn Museum.

Executed in 1997, the watercolour included in this sale stems from a period during which a lot of the subject matter in Bourgeois’ work were devoted to her mother, and consequently to her own role as a mother. In the watercolour, which bears no title, a figure halfway between a face and the sole of a shoe sits on top of a pearl-clad neck, carelessly staring downwards, out of the frame. Whilst being a creation of the 90’s, it is tempting to draw comparison to the signature red-lacquered soles of high-end stiletto footwear designer Christian Louboutin, first created in 1993 and increasingly popular throughout the decade. The semi-represented human characteristics derives from Bourgeois’ interest in the body, both whole and in parts. While historically being conservative and stereotypically feminine attributes, the shape of a shoe sole and the pearl necklace may serve as analytical inputs in order to get closer to the core of this work. Bearing in mind the fact that the artist did put a lot of thought into maternity at the time, the work may well be an excursion of feelings surrounding her own mother, or maybe even towards the persistent expectations on motherhood in general.

By the end of the century the Brooklyn spider was followed up by the thirty-foot steel and marble spider called Maman commissioned in 1999 by the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London, a work that outspokenly served as an ode to her mother and today perhaps stands as her most well-known. Bourgeois reinvigorated her artistic idiom well into the 21st century, and the last twenty years has continued to bring her international acclaim as she has been the subject of numerous major exhibitions throughout the world.