Louise Bourgeois: Paintings

For fans of Louise Bourgeois  — of which I am one — this is a “must” exhibition. For those who are not familiar with her oeuvre, this small show, which covers the years 1938 to 1949, when she, her husband and three children left France and began their new lives in New York, is an excellent introduction to her obsessions. 

A self-invented feminist, decades before feminism swept America in the 1970s, the French-born Bourgeois struggled to balance and accommodate her roles as wife, mother, daughter and artist.

Knowing something about her background deepens one’s appreciation of her art but, frankly, one doesn’t have to be an analyst to see and experience her vulnerability and fury. Or her metaphors. 

Bourgeois Quote

Bourgeois was always attuned to her interior voice. She endured a psychologically traumatic childhood. Born in Paris, her father was a domineering patriarch and womanizer. She has said, “My father had a cruel sense of humor and I could not answer it… I could not make myself feel understood.” In addition to belittling his daughter, he was an incessant womanizer who carried on a long affair with Louise’s beloved English governess, while her mother remained mostly bedridden after contracting the Spanish Flu. After her mother died, Louise attempted suicide and continued to experience a range of depressive and psychotic states.  She studied art in France, married art historian Robert Goldwater, and in 1938 they moved to a Chelsea townhouse in New York. Art was her way of processing her psychological pain. Though she later underwent Freudian analysis, she ultimately rejected Freud’s theories.

Painting was her first medium, one that she largely discarded in her later years. This exhibition includes one of her most famous early works, a series of four paintings known, collectively as, Femme Maison (1946-47), or Housewife.” It is instantly recognizable to any woman as a complex vision of home as “refuge, trap, shelter and prison.”  

Femme Maison

Symbols of love, death, fear, and murder are scattered throughout her work. The following images illustrate her simmering moods. Much like Frieda Kahlo, Bourgeois narrates her inner life as if it were an ongoing nightmare . 

Self Portrait


Red Night

Roof Song


Bourgeois quote about America

Bourgeois loved her adopted country although, like so many European refugees of her era, she felt enormous guilt at having “abandoned” France at its time of need. 

Bourgeois moved on to largely create three-dimensional work of an astounding variety, from her well known “spiders,” to quasi-set designs of her childhood room. In the end, she created a body of work that, in a sense, were a variety of “self-portraits” as well as portraits of 20th century woman, writ large. 

It’s a treat to have this exhibition in New York. 

April 12 – August 7, 2022
The Met Fifth Avenue

Text and Images by Eleanor Foa Dienstag

About Eleanor Foa Dienstag (36 Articles)
Eleanor Foa Dienstag is a veteran author, journalist, photo-journalist and award-winning corporate writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Observer, Ms., Travel & Leisure, and many other websites and publications. Eleanor is the author of three books. Her most recent, available on Amazon and Centro Primo Levi is MIXED MESSAGES: Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile. It is a multi-layered memoir about Eleanor’s personal journey, her father’s exile from Fascist Italy and the Foa Family journey, whose Italian-Jewish roots go back to the 1500s in northern Italy where her ancestors were famous printers. WHITHER THOU GOEST: The Story of an Uprooted Wife, also a memoir, was acclaimed by Business Week for its insights into corporate life. Her third book, In Good Company: 125 Years At The Heinz Table, offered a unique view of a quintessential American company. Eleanor served as staff speechwriter to the Chairman and CEO of American Express. In 1983, she founded Eleanor Foa Associates (www.eleanorfoa.com). It provides a wide variety of corporate writing and marketing services. Eleanor is past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), received speechwriting awards from IABC, and was awarded literary residencies at Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). She resides in Manhattan.