Louise Bourgeois was born on December 25, 1911 in Paris, France. Her parents, Joséphine Fauriaux and Louis Bourgeois, were the owners of a gallery that dealt primarily in antique tapestries, introducing Bourgeois to art and design at a young age. In 1930, Bourgeois studied mathematics at the Sorbonne, although her mother’s death in 1932 inspired her to abandon math in favor of art. She graduated from the Sorbonne in 1935, continuing her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts, the École du Louvre, and with artist Fernand Léger, who encouraged her to work in three-dimensions.
Before her mother’s death as a result of complications from the Spanish flu, her father Louis had entered into an affair with Bourgeois’s governess, a situation which her mother refused to acknowledge. Her childhood memories and trauma surrounding her family life, the family tapestry business, and the caretaking she provided her mother would all prove to be important influences on Bourgeois’s work throughout her career.
In 1938, Bourgeois moved to New York City with her husband, the art historian Robert Goldwater. She enrolled at the Art Students League, where she began making prints, and had her first solo exhibition at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in 1945. Around this time, Bourgeois also began making sculptural forms out of found wood. Throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, Bourgeois exhibited alongside Abstract Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.
Bourgeois’s father passed away unexpectedly in 1951, sending her into a deep depression, at which point she made very little art. In 1964, Bourgeois had her first solo exhibition in 11 years at the Stable Gallery, and the pieces exhibited there—made from plaster and latex—highlighted her turn towards the organic forms that would come to be prominent throughout the remainder of her career.
In the late 1990s, Bourgeois began using the spider as one of the central images in her art. Typically rendered as realistic sculptures of various sizes—some larger than life—and cast in bronze, the spider has come to be synonymous with Bourgeois’s name. Again returning to themes from her childhood, Bourgeois has stated that, “The Spider is an ode to my mother…Like a spider, my mother was a weaver…Like spiders, my mother was very clever…spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
Bourgeois has been the subject of major retrospectives, including the first showing of a living American artist at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (2001); and a traveling retrospective at the Tate Modern, London; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2007). Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Glenstone Museum, Potomac, among others.
Louise Bourgeois passed away at the age of 98 on May 31, 2010 in New York City.