Curator, Deborah Wye: This work is titled Femme Maison. And that meant to Louise Bourgeois either “woman house” or “house woman” in French. She was a native of France and always went back and forth between English and French.
In this period in the 1940s, she was raising three small boys, and so she was certainly thinking of how she felt trying to be an artist and also a stay at home mother. She chose architectural imagery to, in effect, suffocate this woman. It’s kind of dire, in a way. But on the other hand, the woman stands very upright with a certain dignity. And we can tell it's a self-portrait because the hair that comes out of the house was a signifier of Bourgeois’ own long hair .
Architecture was a motif she used throughout her career to symbolize her feelings. She saw architectural structures as a place of refuge. On the other hand, she saw that an architectural structure could also be a trap.
Bourgeois' Femme Maison imagery became a symbol of the feminist art movement in the late 60s and in the 70s. Women in particular brought attention to the body and to issues of biography and personal feelings into artworks. Bourgeois had always been dealing with these things, so the Femme Maison image was very resonant with feminist artists, and I find that it's still resonant with women.