Louise Bourgeois - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips
  • "There has always been sexual suggestiveness in my work. Sometimes I am totally concerned with female shapes...but often I merge the imagery... male and female, active and passive."
    — Louise Bourgeois 

    A psychologically charged and intimate work, Femme embodies Louise Bourgeois’ preoccupation with the female body and the self. As the title of this work suggests, the form is a representation of womanhood. Isolating a part of the body, as seen here, is very common throughout Louise Bourgeois' practice. By stripping an object down to its simplest form, the artist invites the viewer to explore what the body part symbolizes, often suggesting desire, sexuality, and gender. Sculpted in black marble in 2005, Femme revisits an idea Bourgeois constantly explored during her life - the investigation of the female experience as an act of self-discovery, in both her physical and emotional being. 



    Louise Bourgeois in her studio, 1982, Image: © Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

    Hidden Emotions


    The recurrent subject of femininity harkens back to Bourgeois’ traumatic childhood, specifically the role that sexuality and vulnerability played in her early family life. While her mother was extremely ill with influenza, her father had different mistresses, including her English tutor. As a young woman, Bourgeois was deeply impacted by the double standard this represented, remembering how her father told her mother he loved her, while being unfaithful to her. The anger and jealousy she felt for her father’s infidelity, and the painful memories of her mother’s suffering, are some of the traumas that shaped her, causing her to question the notions of motherhood and domesticity throughout her entire life. Her emotions surrounding gender and sexuality became the fuel to her creative process, revealed in many of her works. As the artist approached the end of her life in 2010, she revisited these childhood memories more and more. Femme, sculpted just five years before her death, illustrates how these repressed emotions from her childhood appeared in her work. As she once said, “My piece of sculpture (usually figures) do not represent only study forms – they represent emotional states usually painful kind.”i Perhaps, the emotional state present in this work, carved in black marble—a medium that is heavy and almost unmovable—is a reference to her mother’s resistance to her husband’s infidelities. 

    "I have fun carving marble. I can't destroy it. I'm not going to be destroyed either, by the way" 
    —Louise Bourgeois

    In the 1960s, Bourgeois started experimenting with a variety of sculptural materials, such as rubber, latex, plaster, bronze and marble. The flexibility of these organic, often natural, materials she began to work with during this time inspired her to explore biomorphic and bodily forms, like her famous landscape sculptures that depict clustered breasts. After traveling to Pietrasanta, Italy in 1967 to work with marble and learn more about it, it became one of the most recurrent materials in her practice.ii The use of marble enabled the artist to create forms that resembled the softness of skin, a smoothness that is present in Femme. The way Bourgeois chose her materials oftentimes related to the theme she was exploring. For example, she chose marble for the creation of many of her bodily forms, as she considered there to be a sensuous aspect to it.


    "I enjoy a material I can wrestle with...the marble you cannot hurt: whatever you take away, whatever you chop away, whatever you sand away...you change that piece, but you do not destroy it. This is the kind of relation I enjoy with people. I enjoy people who can give me good resistance and take care of my attacking impulses... There are many kinds of aggression, all kinds of emotion. And what you have to say...it cannot be emotional. It has to be defined. It is a form of articulation, marble (is) much more sensuous... I have fun carving marble. I can't destroy it. I'm not going to be destroyed either, by the way." —Louise Bourgeoisiii


    i Lucy Askew and Anthony D'Offray, Luis Bourgeois: A woman without secrets, New York, 2014.
    ii Louise Bourgeois, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2006, online
    iii "Louise Bourgeois: interview with Barbara Flug Colin", Frigate: The Transverse Review of Books, 2000.

    • Provenance

      Cheim & Read, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Louise Bourgeois

      French-American • 1911 - 2010

      Known for her idiosyncratic style, Louise Bourgeois was a pioneering and iconic figure of twentieth and early twenty-first century art. Untied to an art historical movement, Bourgeois was a singular voice, both commanding and quiet.

      Bourgeois was a prolific printmaker, draftsman, sculptor and painter. She employed diverse materials including metal, fabric, wood, plaster, paper and paint in a range of scale — both monumental and intimate. She used recurring themes and subjects (animals, insects, architecture, the figure, text and abstraction) as form and metaphor to explore the fragility of relationships and the human body. Her artworks are meditations of emotional states: loneliness, jealousy, pride, anger, fear, love and longing.

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Property from an Important Miami Collection



incised with the artist's initials "LB" on the underside
black marble
4 3/4 x 15 x 7 in. (12.1 x 38.1 x 17.8 cm)
Executed in 2005.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $352,800

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022