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Cat. No. 534/II

Vase of Tears

State II of III
c. 1946
Faces & Portraits, Figures, Objects
Engraving, Etching, Other
Soft ground etching and engraving
Smooth, wove paper
plate: 5 1/2 x 3 7/16" (13.9 x 8.8 cm); sheet: 9 13/16 x 6 9/16" (25 x 16.6cm)
"LB" lower left margin, pencil.
The artist at Atelier 17, New York
1 known impression of state II
Not numbered
Edition Information:
Proof before the reprinting and editioning of state III for the portfolio, "Quarantania," published in 1990.
State Changes and Additions:
Changes from state I, in drypoint: facial features, arm, and vase delineated.
Changes from state I, in engraving: arm and vase details reinforced.
Since Galerie Lelong was exhibiting Bourgeois's sculpture, Jean Frémon, a gallery director, proposed undertaking a print project with her. It was decided to reprint plates executed earlier and still in Bourgeois's possession, because this work was unknown to the public. In 1990, after the plates had been stored for more than forty years, they were newly printed by Piero Crommelynck, and published for this portfolio. Only "Quarantania" (9), titled "Bosom Lady" in the 1940s, was reworked in 1990 by the artist.

The 1990 reprints differ in appearance from the 1940s impressions, due to corrosion of the plates and accidental scratching over time. Also, professional printing with uniform inking and wiping creates a darker plate tone. The prints were gathered in a portfolio to represent the work from the 1940s, with the title "Quarantania," deriving from the French "quarante," meaning "forty."

In preparing this project, proofs were also pulled from other old plates in the artist's possession. However, the poor condition of those plates made it impossible to achieve acceptable impressions (see "Youth," 1941-1944; "Laurel Easton," 1944; "Dame," 1948; and "The Burner," 1948). Proofs were also pulled from a 1970s and a 1980s plate. These were editioned and published as "Spirales," c. 1974, and "Femme Maison," 1984. Bourgeois chose a cover resembling that of "He Disappeared into Complete Silence," 1947 because she saw "Quarantania" as a continuation of that work.
Artist’s Remarks:
In an interview for the 1994 catalogue, "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois," Bourgeois called this a kind of self-portrait: "self-deprecating humor about a person who complains." She discussed the state of being "ridden with fears... some healthy and some neurotic. Here is someone who is a fool, someone who is collecting and saving her own tears."

Bourgeois remembered as the origin of this print her feelings when her mother died in 1932 and her father's sarcasm about those feelings. Her mother had been her best friend. "Do not wallow in your tears; do not pretend," her father said. "It was so cruel," Bourgeois said. "He made me into a ridiculous clown. He made me feel that my tears were false tears.... Sarcasm can be a form of child abuse." (Quote cited in Wye, Deborah and Carol Smith. "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois." New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 66.)
Curatorial Remarks:
This plate was inked using a viscosity technique: black ink was beaten into the grooves of the plate and surface wiped clean. Red ink was then applied with a roller across the plate. When inks of different viscosities are used, the inks ordinarily do not blend. Here the viscosities of the two inks were apparently too similar, and some blurring occurred.

In the second half of the 1940s, Bourgeois spent time at Atelier 17, the print workshop of Stanley William Hayter. The workshop had transferred operations from Paris to New York during the war years. It is not known precisely which prints she made at the workshop since she also worked at home on a small press. The designation of “the artist at Atelier 17” as printer means that the impression was likely made at the workshop. The designation is based on dates, inscriptions, techniques favored at Atelier 17, and/or stylistic similarities to images in the illustrated book “He Disappeared into Complete Silence,” which the artist repeatedly cited as having been made at Atelier 17. It is also possible that Bourgeois worked on certain plates both at home and at the workshop, or pulled impressions at both places.
Former Cat. No.:
W & S 26
MoMA Credit Line:
Gift of the artist
MoMA Accession Number:
This Work in Other Collections:
Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Paris
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE
Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland
Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

Vase of Tears, plate 2 of 9, from the portfolio, Quarantania
1946; reprinted and published in 1990


Louise Bourgeois. Untitled (Copper Plate for Vase of Tears). c. 1945
c. 1945


Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears. c. 1946
State I of III
c. 1946
Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears. c. 1946
State II of III
c. 1946
Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears. c. 1946
State III of III, variant
c. 1946
Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears. c. 1946
State III of III, variant
c. 1946
Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears. c. 1946
State III of III, variant
c. 1946
Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears. c. 1946
State III of III, variant
c. 1946
Published Louise Bourgeois. Vase of Tears, plate 2 of 9, from the portfolio, Quarantania. 1946, reprinted 1990
State III of III
1946, reprinted 1990