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Pregnant Woman II

Pregnant Woman II
stamped with the artist's initials and dated ‘LB 41/80’ (on one side)
polished bronze and painted steel
overall: 52 x 17 7/8 x 11in. (132 x 45.5 x 28cm.)
Conceived in 1947-1949 and cast in 1980, this work is number one from an edition of six plus one artist's proof.
Robert Miller Gallery, New York.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1989).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Jena, Städtische Museen Jena, Louise Bourgeois: Sculpture, Drawings and Prints, 2010, p. 138, no. 7 (another from the edition exhibited and illustrated in colour, p. 35).
Lucerne, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Sonja Sekula, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock & Friends, 2016 (another from the edition exhibited).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Cancellation under the EU Consumer Rights Directive may apply to this lot. Please see here for further information.
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Sale room notice
Please note the printed dimensions reflect the total measurements including the painted steel base.

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Lot Essay

A totemic feminine form rising powerfully from the ground, Pregnant Woman II is a stately example of Louise Bourgeois’s Personages. The artist considered this group of slender, human-sized works—which were first conceived in the 1940s, and many of which today reside in major museums—her first truly mature sculptural achievement. In them, she explored the themes of motherhood, relationships, creativity and loss that would remain central to her practice for the next six decades. They were carved in wood, and sometimes painted; Pregnant Woman II is a later cast in lustrous bronze. Balanced on a single tapered leg, she clasps her swelling stomach with stylised arms. Her long, fluted neck ends with a dugout niche at the head, and is capped with what might be a crown. She seems at once primal and sleekly modernist, echoing ancient fertility idols, Alberto Giacometti’s existential figures and the refined forms of Constantin Brâncu?i alike. Taking a deep dive into sex, life, art and subconscious, Pregnant Woman II brings the shape of an emotional interior into the world.

In 1938, newly married to the American art historian Robert Goldwater, Bourgeois had moved from Paris to New York. They adopted a son in 1940; Bourgeois gave birth to a boy herself some months later, and another in 1941. The growing family moved into an apartment block on East 18th Street in August that year. She took the building’s roof as an open-air studio, and it was here that her sculptural work began. ‘Suddenly I had this huge sky space to myself,’ Bourgeois recalled, ‘and I began doing these standing figures.’ The environment’s verticality seems to have informed the Personages, whose helixes, vertebral stacks, and skyscraper-like columns are as architectural as they are anthropomorphic. She named one work Portrait of Jean-Louis, for one of her young sons. Beyond reflecting on her present situation, however, the Personages were an exploration of the life Bourgeois had left behind in France. ‘A friend asked me what I was doing’, she said. ‘I told him, “I feel so lonely that I am rebuilding these people around me”’ (L. Bourgeois, quoted in M. Brenson, ‘A Sculptor Comes into Her Own’, The New York Times, 31 October 1982, p. 29).

At Bourgeois’s debut sculpture show at Peridot Gallery in 1949, these surrogate friends and family members were arranged alone, in pairs, and in small, conversational clusters. Visitors could wander among them, in an early instance of what would later be called installation art. The Personages had an almost magical aura. ‘Their hooded, ghostlike quality,’ writes Lucy Lippard, ‘reminiscent of primitive ancestor totems, was indeed part of a private ritual by which Bourgeois could “summon all of the people I missed. I was not interested in details; I was interested in their physical presence. It was some kind of an encounter”’ (L. Lippard, ‘Louise Bourgeois: From the Inside Out’, Artforum, March 1975, p. 28). In Paris, Bourgeois had studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts, the École du Louvre, and the studio of Fernand Léger; she had made prints while at the Art Students’ League in New York. Following the Personages, it was sculpture, with its strength of physical ‘encounter’, that would come to define her work.

Bourgeois’s autobiography plays a vital role in her art, which has been described as a form of psychoanalysis. She laid out her childhood in a 1982 text titled ‘Child Abuse’, which detailed a deep-seated trauma stemming from her father’s affair with her English governess, as well as the illness and untimely death of her mother in 1932. This story became the prism through which Bourgeois’s work was viewed, and was cultivated by the artist as something of a creation myth. From her early paintings to her haunting, room-sized Cells, it could be taken as the key to the psychosexual dramas staged in her work. In reference to the family business—a tapestry restoration workshop—she frequently employed metaphors of weaving and repair, with some of her most iconic sculptures figuring her mother as a vast, benevolent spider. In this light, the Personages might be seen to evoke needles, bobbins and pins: tools to reconstruct the fabric of the past, or to hold the pieces of a life together. At the same time, Pregnant Woman II has an aspect of self-portraiture. Finding parallels between childbirth and art-making, the pregnant body would become a central motif in Bourgeois’s practice as she explored the generative, nurturing and sometimes ambivalent roles of mother and artist.

These fine obelisks also take part in a knowing dialogue with Bourgeois’s artistic contemporaries. With their insistent narrative qualities, they trouble the abstract purity of artists like Brâncu?i—whom she knew personally—and complicate surrealism’s interest in the ‘primitive’, which often brutalised or essentialised the female body: indeed, they can be seen as phallic forms subverted by feminine attributes. Bourgeois brings her own sophisticated voice to these conversations. As Joan Acocella has noted, ‘Bourgeois’s closet contains other things besides skeletons. She had a solid lycée education, and she knows the history of Western art cold. She is not just a suffering female but a French classicist’ (J. Acocella, ‘The Spider’s Web’, The New Yorker, 28 January 2002). Pregnant Woman II is fertile with ambiguity. It expresses the artist’s raw, innermost being with poised stylistic skill; it emits sensual vulnerability and daggerlike strength; formally, it seems both object of worship and container. Effortlessly entwining the personal with the universal, the sculpture declares her vision fully-formed.

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