Born in 1911 in Paris to a wealthy family, Louise’s childhood deeply affected her artwork throughout her life. Her father, Louis, hadn’t wanted another daughter, so Louise put pressure on herself to live up to her father’s expectations. Louise felt protected and close to her mother, even though her parents viewed her as her father’s daughter.
Louise struggled with inner torments throughout her life, likely linked to the pressures she put on herself and, later, the death of her parents. Her insomnia led her to work around the clock, using art to soothe herself.
“Louise didn’t wake up in the morning thinking, What am I going to create today?” Rachel explains. “Instead, she’d think, How am I going to get through the day? Art was her answer.”
The artist’s 3500 works offer a window into her life and unique worldviews, exploring the magic and drama of her childhood, as well as themes of motherhood and sexuality. “Louise actually brought images of birth into Western culture,” Rachel tells me.
Louise’s mother was a great inspiration for her work, epitomized in her famous giant spider sculptures. To Louise, spiders were not something to be afraid of, but were rather protective, motherly figures.
“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
— Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)
Louise believed that people’s perception of art was affected by what they knew about the artist. Rachel gives me an example: “You might see a painting and dislike it. But then you find out it’s a work of a famous artist, and you then see it in another light. Your impression of the work might change even more if you know the artist was a woman, or a man.”
Louise was aware of these questions. While she didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, separate her life from her art, she was protective of her personal life, keeping her husband and sons away from the public eye.