Louise Bourgeois

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Louise Bourgeois


Louise Bourgeois was a French-American artist who was born on December 25th, 1911 and died on 31st May 2010 (Valentin, 2019). She was a well-known artist who dealt with the large scale sculpture and the installation of art but was also a prolific printmaker and painter. Louise Bourgeois explored a variety of themes over the course of her career that included sexuality and the body, domesticity and the family as well as the death and subconscious themes. Most of her themes connected to the events from her childhood to which she considered to be a therapeutic process. Louise Bourgeois exhibited abstract expressionist, with much of her work being common with feminist art and surrealism but she was not formally affiliated to any of the artistic movements in particular.

Louise Bourgeois was born in France, with her parents owning a gallery that specialized in tapestries. Most of her work was based on her childhood memories that continued to haunt her work in that her father had an affair with her nanny which was a more than a betrayal to her, something that haunted her and her career (Nixon & Bourgeois, 2005). Most of her works that included sculptures, drawings, paintings, and prints were all based on family affairs. Louise Bourgeois dealt with abuse in her childhood and this explains why her pieces were characterized with a dark theme.

Louise Bourgeois had no intentions of becoming an artist but her dream was switched soon after she joined school, she had gone to school to study math but later switched to art soon after her mother died. Louise’s father was not supportive and thus he did not support her art career. Louise Bourgeois needed money to further her studies and thus she opened her own shop and it is by the process of running the shop, she met her husband to be, who was an art historian. Together with her husband, they relocated to New York City, where she spent the rest of her life. Louise Bourgeois attended the Art Students League and later taught at various schools such as Brooklyn College and Pratt Institute. She used to hold salons in her Chelsea apartment every week, helping her students with her work and at the same time providing tough critics.

Subject matter

Louise Bourgeois dealt with dark themes which were as a result of her childhood experiences. One of her major artistic works is the sculpture “The Spider” that was sold for 10 million dollars, making her the highest paid women artists of her time. The spider was created in 1994 where she drew a spider from ink and charcoal (Betterton, 2009). In later years, she created a series of bronze and steel spider sculptures. The spider sculpture was significant in that it had the most successful subject. The spider was used as both a predator as well as a protector to symbolize the figure of a mother. The spinning and weaving of the spider’s web links are compared to her mother who worked in the family’s tapestry restoration business and to whom encouraged her to participate in the business. Another artwork by Louise is the ‘Maman’ sculpture that was created in 1999. The sculpture is made of bronze marble and stainless steel. The ‘maman’ is a depiction of a spider and is among the world’s largest piece of art measuring over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide. The sculpture composed of a sac that contains 32 marble eggs, its abdomen and thorax are made of ribbed bronze. The name ‘maman’ in French means ‘mother’ and it is used to elicit emotions of fear, female protraction, vulnerability as well as an awesome power. The artwork is an inspiration from her mother who worked in the tapestries and thus a symbol of protection, love, and mender of broken hearts.

Niki de Saint Phalle


Niki de Saint Phalle was born on October 29th in 1930 and died on 21st May 2002 (Riley, 2016). She was a French-American sculptor, filmmaker, and painter and was among one of the few women artists that were widely known for monumental sculpture and also for her commitments in art. Niki had a difficult and a traumatic childhood and education that she wrote decades later. Niki began creating art in a naïve experimental style after she was engaged in an early marriage and having two children. She received global attention for angry and violent assemblages that had been shot by firearms, which evolved into nanas, whimsical, light-hearted, and colorful and large-scale sculptures of animals, female figures and monsters.

Niki had no prior training in art but she freely associated with many other contemporary writers, artists, and composers. She used an idiosyncratic style that was later referred to as outsider art. Niki de Saint Phalle was born to a wealthy family that was involved in banking in Paris. Her art was not fully accepted by her parents especially her father. The family relocated to the East Coast of the US and it is here that Niki began exploring painting, but she couldn’t experiment with sculpture until a little later in life. She married at a young age and had two children.

Subject matter

A large number of Niki’s works of art were mostly feminine and this can be explained by the fact that her father was not supportive and thus was driven by the love of her mother. Some were of dark themes. Niki de Saint Phalle met a fellow artist in Spain who helped her change her perception regarding the creation of sculptures. She also focused on other female roles both at home and in the society and this is what inspired her into creating some of her most popular art pieces such as the ‘Nanas. Niki de Saint Phalle sculpted women of various shapes for free and fun poses which were covered in bright colors and bold designs. Another piece of her work is the ‘Hon-en Katedral’ that was a giant figure of a woman on her back and the viewers were able to enter the figure through her figure through the opening of her legs (Öhrner, 2018). Inside the figure, the viewers were able to see a faux art gallery and as well interact with space. Other comprehensive works of Niki include the ‘Tarot Garden’ which was a large sculpture garden that contained numerous works of art that ranged to house-sized creations.

Historical context

Louise spent most of the 20th century being influenced by traumatic psychological events that were based on her childhood. At the beginning of the 1970, she hosted Sunday salons in her apartment where young artists and students would take their work to be criticized. Louise criticism used to be ruthless, referring to the gatherings with characteristically dry humor. Due to these efforts, Louise influence on other artists in the 1970s grew significantly with her artwork mostly manifesting strong feminist-inspired body art as well as the development of installation art. Niki on the other had the same experiences of the 20th century and thus shared a lot of similarity in art. The two women were greatly affected by their family issues that influenced their art career.

Significance to woman artist in history

Louise Bourgeoisie was of great significance as she contributed highly to the art history. Her work was based on feminism which was characterized by emotional expression. Louise spent most of her time mentoring students and young artists through providing critics to their works. Niki de Saint Phalle, on the other hand, was an artist who believed in feminism and thus most of her works were based on feminism such the Nana and ‘Hon-en Katedral’ that both represent woman figures. The two women thus played a significant role in promoting female artists as well as female art. They developed their paintings and sculptures based on their past experiences and therefore an inspiration to new female artists that anything can be an inspiration in art, childhood experiences are a crucial part in influencing art passion.

The attitudes by their contemporaries

Louise and Niki were among the well-known female artists in the society and due to this, they had a positive impact on the society. The two women influenced other women to join the arts and this was done through providing them with a platform to criticize their art so that they could make improvements. The two women, therefore, played the key role of motivating and rising up of new female artist and due to their willingness to raise new talents, many women joined their teachings. Based on such contributions, the perception of other female artist was that full of positivity, perceiving the two women as role models, as female artists who had secured a name around the globe. By concentrating on feminism and dark themes that developed emotions such as the spider, they inspired other women that they needed to be there for their children, providing motivation and healing the scars of trauma and abuse.


There are various reasons that led to the choice of the two women, Niki and Louise. One of the reason is that they are female artists who share most of their characters and characteristics. The two women were both French-American artist. Both of them were born in France, later relocating to America where they settled for the rest of their lives. Another common characteristic that is a characteristic of the two women artists is that both were married to men who had interests in art history and to which their marriages led to their relocation from French to the USA. Besides, the two women got married at a tender age and had two children each.

Another reason for choosing the two women is that they were born around the same century and thus they had similar periodical experiences in arts. During their childhood days, both had traumatic childhood that haunted their careers influencing art style. Louise faced child abuse and betrayal at a young age when her father was involved in infidelity with her nanny and her mother was sick and thus she had no one to support her. After the death of her mother, she was forced to change her career from math to art and considering that her father was not supportive, she had to make her ends meet by starting up her own business. On the other hand, Niki faced similar challenges, her father was not supportive and thus she never got any education relating to art.

Apart from their past experiences, they were also successful women and thus could not be easily ignored as their works of art are acceptable and known all over the world. Besides, the topic provided narrows about women artist, making it a fulfillment of the assigned topic. One of the differences between the two artists is that Niki had no prior art education and thus her works were purely a talent as compared to Louise who attended art school and later volunteered to share her knowledge on arts to students. The two women were not affiliated with any movement and this means that they had freedom to do what they wanted without coercion and this is the main reason for their success. Therefore, the main reason for choosing the two artists is due to the many similarities that exhibited especially their promotion of feminism and most specifically the mother’s love.


Betterton, R. (2009). Louise Bourgeois, ageing, and maternal bodies. feminist review, 93(1), 27-45.

Nixon, M., & Bourgeois, L. (2005). Fantastic reality: Louise Bourgeois and a story of modern art. Mit Press.

Öhrner, A. (2018). Niki de Saint Phalle Playing with the Feminine in the Male Factory.: Hon-en katedral. Stedelijk Studies, (7), 1-16.

Riley, L. K. (2016). Niki de Saint Phalle: The Female Figure and Her Ambiguous Place in Art History.Valentin, S. (2019). Keeper of Lost Things.