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  • Provenance

    Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection, Europe
    Phillips, London, 10 October 2012, lot 11
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Musée du Louvre, Contrepoint 2: De l’objet d’art à la sculpture – Porcelaines contemporaines, 1 December 2005 - 20 February 2006 (another example exhibited)
    London, The Wallace Collection, From Jean Arp To Louise Bourgeois: Modern Artists At Sèvres, 15 June - 10 September 2006 (another example exhibited)
    Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Louise Bourgeois, 5 March - 2 June 2008, p. 30 (another example illustrated and exhibited)
    Limoges, Contrario Galerie, Sculpture au Féminin, 3 July - 27 September 2009, p. 57 (another example illustrated and exhibited, incorrectly dated 1998 – 99)
    London, Phillips, A Very Short History of Contemporary Sculpture, 6 October - 31 October 2014, p. 29 (another example illustrated and exhibited)

  • Literature

    Louise Bourgeois: Porcelain Contemporaines, exh. cat., Connaissance des Arts, Paris, 2005, no. 269, pp. 10 – 11 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Delicate and powerful, Nature Study is a challenging, graceful work exemplifying Louise Bourgeois visionary and critical concern with organic, provocative forms. At the pinnacle of the artist’s creative output, a culmination of forms and ideas spanning a significant period of the twentieth century, Nature Study presents themes that concerned the artist throughout her career. Immensely psychological, addressing issues which had long preoccupied the artist, Nature Study is a self-portrait, embodying Bourgeois’ status as a nurturing mother, combining themes of maternity, family, alienation, identity, gender and mortality. The present work is from an edition of six plus two artist’s proofs in porcelain, one of which one is housed in the Musée du Louvre and another in the esteemed Goetz Collection in Munich. This seminal work is from a celebrated series first conceived in plaster in 1984 and thereafter executed in a variety of dense materials such as marble, bronze, wax and rubber.

    Simultaneously fragile and fierce in its sculptural volume, Nature Study, executed in Sèvres porcelain, presents twin poles of humanity. The combination of exposed ambisexual genitalia and the delicacy of the materials epitomises the artist’s assertion that ‘we are all vulnerable in some way…and we are all male-female' (Louise Bourgeois in Louise Bourgeois: Nature Study: An Essay, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 1985, p. 2). Pushing the boundaries and traditional categorisation of gender through the assemblage of forms, Bourgeois invokes the surrealist collage of female Dada protagonist Hannah Höch.

    Transforming her own intensely emotional psychological states into extraordinary physical forms, Bourgeois’ voluptuous sculpture radiates energy, a vehicle of sensation and autonomous flesh. Presenting Bourgeois' anima and persona in parallel, the creature fluctuates between personal psychological and maternal exploration and the universally symbolic language of the body, an object in turmoil. The sphynx-like figure, neither human nor animal, is a fantastical creation, both deeply internal and yet inescapably external. The ‘literalisations of dreams and nightmares, the beautiful and erotic and the horrendous and neurotic' (Joanna Ekman, Louise Bourgeois, The Locus of Memory, Works 1982–1993, New York, 1994, p. 58). Reflecting the wistfulness of her 1947 totemic figures in wood, the Personages, the present work is an evolution of earlier themes, invoking the homesickness and nostalgia evident throughout Bourgeois’ oeuvre. Embracing metaphors of evolution and family, personality and imprisonment, deceit and vengeance, sexual union and gender, Nature Study embodies various states of being, intensely private, yet created for showcase, raising yet more questions on the psychological conflicts with identity.

    Utilising the skill, and invoking the cultural and historical importance of the Sèvres porcelain factory, previously patronized by French royalty such as Louis XV, Nature Study is executed in flawless biscuit porcelain. A technical challenge to the masters of the medium due to its monumental scale, Bourgeois played a major role in the revival of the factory in contemporary culture. Fragments of the body reveal themselves in the surface of the porcelain, through the curious, hermaphroditic creature traversing numerous boundaries.

    Characterised by ambiguities, the overt and conflicted familiarity of the form addresses Bourgeois’ fostering nature - the nurturing mother holding on to and protecting what she loves. The symbolic creation raises questions of identity, as the figure, presented as a self-portrait, is replete with interpretative probabilities. A testament to the deeply personal, highly anxious and openly celebrated talent of its master, Nature Study opens the viewer to the complexity of personality in the artist's oeuvre, in turn cementing its importance in the almost 80 year career of Louise Bourgeois. Admirable in its solid form, the masterful creation in a historical medium with its exploration of the artist’s psyche, remains mysterious in its sheer elegance and beauty.

  • Artist Biography

    Louise Bourgeois

    French-American • 1911 - 2010

    Known for her idiosyncratic style, Louise Bourgeois was a pioneering and iconic figure of 20th and early 21st century art. A prolific sculptor, printmaker, draftsman, and painter, Bourgeois has been linked to Surrealism and Feminist art, though she developed a singular voice that betrays firm categorization to a specific art historical movement. Her artworks have been widely understood as visceral meditations of subjective states, such as loneliness, jealousy, pride, anger, fear, love, and longing. Employing diverse materials including metal, fabric, wood, plaster, paper, and paint in both intimate and monumental scales, 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. Bourgeois’ works reside in major institutional collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and Tate, London.

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Nature Study

stamped with the artist's initials, Sèvres mark and dated ‘LB2004’ on the reverse of the base
biscuit porcelain
71.8 x 41.3 x 30.5 cm (28 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 12 in.)
Conceived in 1996, cast in 2004, this work is from an edition of 6 plus 2 artist’s proofs and was produced by Manufacture nationale de Sèvres, Paris.

£600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for £725,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 29 June 2017