Louise Bourgeois - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 12, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Like so much of Louise Bourgeois’ oeuvre, The Worm is a testament to the artist’s profoundly complex sources of inspiration, condensed into a unique form of expression. The artist’s interest in ‘part-objects' as demonstrated throughout her practice explores depicted body parts and monumentalises their functions. Breasts, penises, and vulvae are rendered taking on a life of their own, effortlessly bridging the grotesque and the sentimental. The Worm presents a single sleek form with two nipples showing through the patina, anchoring either end. As it arcs as if to crawl forward, the tradition of the female nude is disregarded, favouring the incarnation of the body’s natural functions. In a smaller sculpture from 1967 entitled Tits, a single form renders a similar motif, consolidating Bourgeois’ fascination for the ambiguity that body parts occupy, at once sexualised and life-giving. As the viewer considers Bourgeois’ work, they in turn consider the artist’s poised regard for the complex nexus of physiological and sexual characteristics that govern our bodies.

    “I made a drawing of breasts pressed against each other; there was a double attitude to be like a mother, and to be liked by a mother … the lips like sucking. The whole person becomes a breast that stretches in order to give.”
    —Louise Bourgeois

    Throughout her seventy-year career, Bourgeois continued to execute works that were unrelenting in their capacity to avoid being pigeon-holed. While she herself was a strong feminist and her work was undeniably disruptive, the definitive label of ‘feminist artist’ was not a term Bourgeois embraced. As such, the characteristically masculine and feminine forms that the artist included in her practice were not simply subverted or juxtaposed, they were merged. As seen in The Worm, a pair of breasts are fused together creating a flaccid phallic form that offers an androgynous solution to an age-old binary. The same can be said of the bronze sculpture entitled Janus Fleuri executed in 1968, which includes two smooth features, reminiscent of male glands that merge to create a single rough, overlapping form more indicative of vulvae. What often results from such an approach is a paradoxically unsettling and endearing corpus of work that attests to Bourgeois’ complex rationalisation of her own traumatic upbringing. Even her iconic spider sculptures are as intimidating as they are colossal, stand as a tribute to her beloved mother.


    While her career was neglected in favour of her male counterparts that took part in the Abstract Expressionist movement, Louise Bourgeois’ retrospective in 1982 was the first by a woman held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This exhibition cemented her oeuvre as a formative contribution to the development of contemporary art. The artist’s substantial output has continued to be the subject of major exhibitions and publications, testifying to an approach that remained both introspective and enigmatic from the 1930s until her death in 2010.




    • Provenance

      Galerie Karsten Greve, St. Moritz
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Vienna, Kunstahalle Wien, Le Surrealisme, C'est Moi! Homage to Salvador Dali, 22 June - 23 October 2011, p. 94 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Naples, Studio Trisorio, Louise Bourgeois: Voyage Without a Destination, 24 March - 30 June 2017, p. 41 (another example exhibited and 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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The Worm

incised with the artist's initials, number and foundry mark on the underside L.B. 1/6 MAF 07'
26 x 30 x 57 cm (10 1/4 x 11 3/4 x 22 1/2 in.)
Conceived in 1989 and cast in 2007, this work is number 1 from an edition of 6, plus 1 artist's proof.

Full Cataloguing

£300,000 - 500,000 ‡♠

Sold for £317,500

Contact Specialist

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Associate Specialist
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Simon Tovey
Specialist, Associate Director
+44 20 7318 4084

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 12 October 2023