Louise Bourgeois was a French-American artist and sculptor. She was an influential figure in modern and contemporary art, and among her works of art were large spider structures which resulted in her being nicknamed the Spiderwoman. Her largest spider sculpture titled Maman stands at over 30 feet (9.1 m) and has been installed in numerous locations around the world. She became recognized as the founder of confessional art. In the late 1940s, after moving to New York City with her American husband, Robert Goldwater, she turned to sculpture. Her works often express themes of betrayal, anxiety, and loneliness.
Born in Paris, her parents owned a gallery in antique tapestries. In 1930, Bourgeois entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics and geometry, subjects that she valued for their stability. Her mother's death in 1932 inspired her to abandon mathematics and to begin studying art. Her father thought modern artists were wastrels and refused to support her but she continued to study art. In one such class Fernand Léger saw her work and told her she was a sculptor, not a painter.
Bourgeois graduated from the Sorbonne in 1935, and continued to study art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière from 1937 to 1938 and at various other art schools, such as the École du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts. Bourgeois had a desire for first-hand experience, and frequently visited studios in Paris, learning techniques from the artists and assisting with exhibitions. She briefly opened a print store beside her father's tapestry workshop. It's were she met her husband Robert Goldwater, an American art historian noted for his pioneering work in the field then referred to as primitive actin 1938. They got married and emigrated to New York City the same year. There Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York, studying painting under Vaclav Vytlacil, and also producing sculptures and prints.
For Bourgeois the early 1940s represented the difficulties of a transition to a new country and the struggle to enter the exhibition world of New York City. Her work during this time was constructed from junkyard scraps and driftwood which she used to carve upright wood sculptures. Throughout her life, Bourgeois' work was created from revisiting of her own troubled past as she found inspiration and temporary catharsis from her childhood years and the abuse she suffered from her father. Slowly she developed more artistic confidence, although her middle years are more opaque, which might be due to the fact that she received very little attention from the art world despite having her first solo show in 1945.
In 1954, Bourgeois joined the American Abstract Artists Group, with several contemporaries, among them Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. At this time she also befriended the artists Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock. As part of the American Abstract Artists Group, Bourgeois made the transition from wood and upright structures to marble, plaster and bronze as she investigated concerns like fear, vulnerability and loss of control. This transition was a turning point. She referred to her art as a series or sequence closely related to days and circumstances, describing her early work as the fear of falling which later transformed into the art of falling and the final evolution as the art of hanging in there.
In 1973, Bourgeois started teaching. Bourgeois received her first retrospective in 1982, by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Until then, she had been a peripheral figure in art whose work was more admired than acclaimed. In an interview with Artforum, timed to coincide with the opening of her retrospective, she revealed that the imagery in her sculptures was wholly autobiographical. Bourgeois died of heart failure on 31 May 2010. She had continued to create artwork until her death, her last pieces being finished the week before.