Louise Bourgeois is a feminist icon and her art reflects this. Throughout her life, Bourgeois always questioned the female identity. She went against societal norms and never understood why women had to succumb to men.
Bourgeois herself was a working mother. She married art historian Robert Goldwater, had two sons with Goldwater and adopted a third. During the time she lived in New York (late 1930s until her death in 2010), being a professional working artist was an uncommon profession for a female. Most women, she noticed, were stay-at-home mothers with a lack of career ambition.
Louise Bourgeois in her Brooklyn, New York studio, 1995 © The Easton Foundation
Frustrated with this situation, Bourgeois created a series of paintings called Femme Maison (French for “housewife; literal meaning: woman house) in the mid-1940s. These paintings emphasize the home as a place for females. By covering the heads and bodies of nude female figures with architectural structures such as buildings and houses, Bourgeois highlights that women should feel safe and secure in their homes, but can actually feel imprisoned. Bourgeois draws attention to the vulnerability of the female body by revealing only its bottom half.
Femme Maison, 1946-47 © The Easton Foundation
“(the Femme Maison) does not know that she is half-naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding.”
These paintings, and future ones of the same series, sum up the struggle that many women face nowadays – women are not only expected to take on the role as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law and domestic CEO, but also maintain a professional career.
Femme Maison, 1994 © The Easton Foundation
Bourgeois’s Femme Maison series became a symbol during the beginning of the Feminist art movement in the United States in the early 1970s. This movement sought to develop Feminist art and writing, and included participation by renowned artist Judy Chicago and art historian Linda Nochlin.
Bourgeois incorporated her personal items and domestic objects into her later installation series called Cells, which reflected her continuing fascination with identity, home and her place within it.