The Art of Perseverance

As tough as it is to make it as an artist, it’s even tougher to do so as a woman. Louise Bourgeois managed to break through – after decades of obscurity.


ABOVE: Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, bronze, marble, and stainless steel, 364 x 350 x 402 inches, cast 2001, edition 2/6 + A. P., Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, Photo: © Guggenhein Bilbao Museoa, Bilbao

Born in Paris in 1911, Louise Bourgeois was raised above a tapestry shop in the suburbs. Her father, an overbearing philanderer would often tease her in front of others, and her mother, albeit loving, was in many ways broken owing to her husband’s constant affairs.

In 1930, Bourgeois began studying mathematics at the Sorbonne. Although she loved math (for all its rules), she abruptly changed her major to art when her mother died in 1932. Her father wasn’t happy, and he refused to help her in any way, so, in order to obtain tuition, she worked as a translator for English speaking students.

After leaving the Sorbonne, she continued her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts and began creating artwork inspired by her relationship with her father. Later, she opened a tapestry shop beside his, and because it was a ‘real job’, he helped her do so.

It was at the shop that she met an art professor named Robert Goldwater and after a brief affair, the two married and fled to New York City. Goldwater taught art at NYU and Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York.

Although friends with many successful artists (such as Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock), success proved elusive for Bourgeois, and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that she began her ascent into the upper echelons of the art world. In 1982, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective of her work, and from then on the accolades began piling up.

When Louise Bourgeois passed away in 2010 at the age of 98, she left behind a legacy that serves, in part, as testimony to hard work and perseverance. It wasn’t easy, but she’s in her rightful place as one of contemporary arts greatest practitioners.