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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A FLORIDA COLLECTION

Nature Study

Nature Study
incised with the artist’s initials, number and date ‘LB 2007 II/II’ (on the base)
gold porcelain
28 1/2 x 13 x 16 1/4in. (72.4 x 33 x 41.3cm.)
Conceived in 1984-1996 and cast in 2007, this work is the second artist’s proof from an edition of two plus two artist’s proofs
Private Collection, New York.
Hauser & Wirth, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015.
Saint-Tropez, Musée de l’Annonciade, Dialogues méditerraneéns à Saint-Tropez, 2007 (another from the edition exhibited).
St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, Sèvres. Modern Porcelain, 2010 (another from the edition exhibited).
Avignon, Collection Lambert en Avignon, Palais des Papes, Les Papesses, 2013, pp. 192 and 372 (another from the edition exhibited; illustrated in colour, p. 193).
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. 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.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Cast in golden porcelain, Nature Study is a lustrous example of one of Louise Bourgeois’s most iconic sculptural forms. The chimeric creature squats on a pedestal: it has no head, three pairs of breasts, and a phallus between its muscular canine legs. Merging aspects of male, female, human and animal symbolism, it has the aura of an ancient idol or guardian deity. Bourgeois invokes the monsters of myth—satyr, sphinx, hydra, harpy—as well as the many-breasted mother-goddess Cybele, known in ancient Rome as Magna Mater or ‘Great Mother’. She identified Nature Study as a self-portrait, reflecting on her position as a nurturing and fiercely protective mother. The sculpture is alive with the primal physicality, emotive power and psychosexual intrigue that define her practice. Related examples made in other materials such as bronze, marble and rubber are held in museum collections worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

Bourgeois’s art is indivisible from her life story. Born in France in 1911, she suffered 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. These events resulted in a conflicting sense of her own sexuality that is evident in her very earliest work, and was articulated ever more eloquently as she explored the overlapping roles of artist, mother and wife over the following decades. Nature Study brings together these ideas in a complex of dualities: it is at once open and closed, seductive and threatening, revealing and inscrutable. It can be seen as a form of physical autobiography, a body pulled from the shifting, archetypal underworld of the artist’s subconscious.

Conceived between 1984 and 1996, Nature Study’s hybrid physique underwent subtle variations in shape, size and material. Some versions appear swollen and fertile; others are more taut, lean and alert. In each case, the breasts hover protectively over the phallus. ‘The phallus is the subject of my tenderness,’ Bourgeois explained. ‘After all, I lived with four men ... I was the protector.’ At the same time, the member is a symbol of aggression and power. ‘Though I feel protective of the phallus,’ she said, ‘it does not mean I am not afraid of it’ (L. Bourgeois, quoted in Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London 2007, p. 186). Fear and tenderness play out across other aspects of the sculpture, too. The present work’s sharp claws and sleek, polished surface give it a defensive edge, but the gilded body is also naked and vulnerable.

The monumental black marble work She-Fox (1985, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) takes a similar form to Nature Study, with the addition of a girl’s head at the animal’s feet. Bourgeois compared the poised canine to her own mother, whom she described as ‘a very intelligent, patient and enduring, if not calculating, person. To me she was a fox because I could not measure up to this kind of competence and this antagonism, this threatening aspect, exasperated me ... The She-Fox is a portrait of a relation. It is an expression of the faith a child can have in a parent and of the violence between the strong and the weak ... I have been inhabited by a ferocious mother-love; in that way the She-Fox is also a self-portrait’ (L. Bourgeois, quoted in ibid, p. 163). This same ‘ferocious mother-love’ informs Nature Study. A charged, oracular presence, the sculpture conceives art from life, and embodies all the beauty, strength and terror Bourgeois found in motherhood.

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