Louise Bourgeois - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • '...only sewing will restore me to a balance. Everyone approves of my sewing men and women and myself too. My memory is moth-eaten full of holes.' 
    —Louise Bourgeois

    Presenting two, soft pink bodies gently pressed against one another, heads inclined into each other’s shoulders as they hang, suspended in space, Couple is a tender portrait of intimacy and attachment by renowned French artist Louise Bourgeois. A stunning example of her mature soft sculptures that were recently celebrated in Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child - a major late-career survey of the artist’s textile work at London’s Hayward Gallery - the work is a rare example of a hanging couple in pink towelling fabric, a blue sister work belonging to the Easton Foundation included in the landmark show.


    Highly evocative, the soft and perishable pink bodies are poignant reminders of our own vulnerability, in physical as well as emotional terms, speaking powerfully to the human desire for touch and closeness. Appealing to our most visceral sense, by using familiar fabrics that we are used to feeling against our skin in this manner, Bourgeois ‘activates a dimension of haptic sensation and tactile association that opens up our encounter beyond a purely visual engagement.’i Hanging the embracing couple delicately inside the glass vitrine, Bourgeois amplifies this sensation further, removing the couple from us to float eternally, the only beings in their private universe of two.


    Louise Bourgeois with Eye to Eye (1970) in 1990. Image: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © The Easton Foundation/DACS, London and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Louise Bourgeois with Eye to Eye (1970) in 1990. Image: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © The Easton Foundation/DACS, London and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Woven Women


    Growing up in an artisanal household surrounded by fabrics and textiles thanks to her parent’s business as tapestry restorers and dealers, the medium of sewing, stitching, and weaving, and the tactility of fabric is particularly charged with biographical and psychological significance in the case of Bourgeois. Already in her 80s when she embarked on this final chapter of her long and highly celebrated career, Bourgeois’ return to needles and thread is highly significant, signalling a ‘pivot in her art away from the father and toward the mother’, and a profound reflection on themes of motherhood, trauma, loss, and repair.ii

    'When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.' —Louise Bourgeois

    Connecting ideas of reparation and the act of sewing with the maternal, Bourgeois’ privileging of textiles at once drew on a long-established association with modes of craft as ‘women’s work’, as well as a more personal sense of emotional and psychological repair. Weaving its own complex metaphors, while the fragment indicates pain and loss, the suturing together of these different components indicates the capacity for repair, speaking powerfully to our desire for wholeness – both in ourselves, and in our romantic partnerships.


    Bourgeois first introduced fabric into her work in 1991 with Cell I, the architectural structure that heralded the start of one of her most significant series. Featuring a low metal bed covered in fabric quilted together from old pillow cases and postal bags inside its caged frame, Cell I highlights the indivisibility of the autobiographic from the act of sewing for the artist, the refashioned bedclothes embroidered with phrases from her diaries. Engaged in an endless cycle of weaving and repair, the spider would ultimately become Bourgeois’ most potent and iconic motif after 1994, directly linking ideas of stitching and restoration with the figure of her mother in her series of steel sculptures. As the artist elucidated: ‘I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.’iii


    Drawing comparisons between Bourgeois’ mature fabric works and Dorthea Tanning’s compellingly contorted soft sculptures, Linda Nochlin draws attention to the gendered dimensions of this practice, the soft, stitched forms particularly well-suited to ‘concerns both feminine and geriatric’ as both women explored questions of ageing, the female body, and the unconscious in their mature textile work.iv


    Dorothea Tanning, Nue couché, 1969 – 70, Tate Gallery, London 
    Dorothea Tanning, Nue couché, 1969 – 70, Tate Gallery, London. Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022 




    Central to Bourgeois’ oeuvre, the motif of the couple allowed the artist to explore complex questions related to attachment, abandonment, desire, self and other, especially charged in the soft sculptures that she first embarked on in the 1990s. Traveling through a turbulent emotional landscape, the couples are contorted into a range of passionate unions, tender embraces, and painful estrangements. Having undertaken a decades long period of intensive psychoanalysis herself, Bourgeois would have been well aware of the implications of such repetitious behaviour, her compulsive stitching of these figures a defence against her own fears of abandonment, deeply rooted in the childhood trauma of her father’s infidelity and betrayal - not only of her mother, but felt keenly by the young Louise.

    '… the relation of one person to his surroundings is a continuing preoccupation. It can be casual or close, simple or involved, subtle or blunt. It can be painful or pleasant. Most of all it can be real or imaginary. This is the soil from which all my work grows.'
    —Louise Bourgeois
    In this respect, the metaphorical connections drawn between sewing and emotional repair are especially amplified in Bourgeois works focused on the couple motif. A mode of healing emotional trauma, stitching emerges as ‘a subtle form of communication and an attempt at atonement, where the gesture and labour involved can evoke complex feelings – among them guilt and gratitude – in another person. For Bourgeois, the act of reparation was a defence against fragmentation and disintegration, and sewing a way to ward off feelings of abandonment or separation – an attempt to keep things whole’ that speaks poetically to the shifting dynamics of our personal relationships.v


    The motif of the embracing couple has a long and distinguished art historical lineage, taking in the passionate exuberance of Auguste Rodin’s young lovers, and Constantin Brancusi’s touching union of indivisible figures and the tribal artefacts and fetishes that Bourgeois was drawn to. However, in leaving the seams and sutures visible in Couple, Bourgeois highlights the painful persistence of our emotional scars and exposes the fallacy of the idea self as a self-contained whole, a theme developed in her print collaboration with British artist Tracey Emin.


    Pablo Picasso, The Embrace, 1903, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris
CAPTION:  Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1907, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    [Left] Pablo Picasso, The Embrace, 1903, Musée de l’Orangerie. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Succession Picasso / DACS, London 2022,
    [Right] Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1907, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022


    The threads of Bourgeois’ own biography are woven across the varied body of work that makes up her incredible seventy year career, a fact that is nowhere more apparent than in the fabric sculptures of her late work which draw so closely on her personal relationships, her reflections on ageing and the body, and to intimacy and vulnerability. Placing the body and the emotional burden it carries at the centre of these highly affecting works, Bourgeois finds the universal in the highly personal, treating the body, as Rachel Cusk has elegantly put it, ‘as alternately a public interface and a site of intimate memory, a duality she seeks to resolve through the memorialising capacity of fabrics and clothes.’vi


     Writer Deborah Levy discusses the work and legacy of  Louise Bourgeois


    Collector’s Digest


    • Since her death in 2010, interest in Louise Bourgeois’ work has only intensified, with several major retrospectives of her work mounted at Tate Modern in London, the Musée Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in recent years.


    • Central to her oeuvre, Bourgeois’ fabric works have been the focus of exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery in London and the Kunsthalle Bielefeld.


    • Couples feature heavily across these fabric works, presented in a variety of poses. Significant examples include a sister work in the blue fabric belonging to the Easton Foundation in New York, as well as larger examples in the permanent collections of the Tate Gallery in London and the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.


    i Ralph Rugoff, ‘Mechanisms of Ambiguity and Sensation: The Late Fabric Sculptures of Louise Bourgeois’
    ii Philip Larratt-Smith, Louise Bourgeois: Freud’s Daughter, London, 2021, p. 112. 
    iii Louise Bourgeois, quoted in Spider’, in Frances Morris, ed., Louise Bourgeois, (exh. cat.), London, 2007, p. 272. 
    iv Linda Nochlin, ‘Old-Age Style : Late Louise Bourgeois’, in Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, ed., by Maura Reilly London, 2015, p. 387.  
    v Julienne Lorz, ‘Acts of Reperation: Spiders, Needles and Cels in the Work of Louise Bourgeois’, in Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child, (ex. cat.), London, 2022, p. 35.  
    vi Rachel Cusk, ‘The Fabricated Woman’, in Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child, (exh. cat.), London, 2022, p. 27.

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      Houston, The Margolis Gallery, Contemporary Collections, 22 November 2005 - 22 January 2006, p. 6 (illustrated)

    • 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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fabric and hanging piece in aluminium, glass and wood vitrine
figure 43.2 x 16.5 x 15.2 cm (17 x 6 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
overall 193 x 61 x 61 cm (76 x 24 x 24 in.)

Executed in 2002.

Full Cataloguing

£450,000 - 550,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £869,500

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022