Creatures of the natural world were a source of fascination to Bourgeois from the time her father populated the family property with an assortment of hens, dogs, ducks, rabbits, pigs, and even a donkey, all meant to live in harmony. When she raised her own small boys, they spent time together observing nature at their weekend house in Easton, Connecticut, and also had family pets—cats named Tyger and Champfleurette, who appeared in Bourgeois’s dreams. Always attempting to decipher her own behavior and relationships, she looked to animals and insects for qualities they might share with humans.
Some of Bourgeois’s early paintings show plants and animals, and living things are also implied in the nests and lairs she shaped from plaster in the 1960s. Later works include fierce depictions of a flayed Rabbit in 1970, and a monstrous half-dog, half-mythic female titled She-Fox, in 1985. Such motifs appear only occasionally in her sculpture but take a distinctive place within her more intimate prints and drawings, where one finds a bestiary of cows, horses, pigs, cats, mosquitoes, and even an exotic llama. Spiders—actually classified as arachnids—form a separate category.
The artist anthropomorphizes this subject matter, particularly the wily cat. She invents a feline Self Portrait with five legs to help maintain stability. Champfleurette, the family pet, becomes a beguiling temptress who sports high-heels. Even Mosquito, the insect she dreaded as a summer pest, is seen with radiating locks, breasts, and a fetus.