Plate 3, from the illustrated book, He Disappeared into Complete Silence
1947 (first edition); 2005 (second edition)
He Disappeared into Complete Silence,New York, 1947
Deborah Wye's foreword to the 2005 edition is below.
For Louise Bourgeois, no artwork is ever finished. Her creative process continues as long as a piece is nearby. In fact, it is not uncommon for her to make alterations to a work even years after it was first conceived. Such variations reflect changes in emotions, but her subject remains the same, comprising what she calls a “drama of the self.” The parables and engravings that make up He Disappeared into Complete Silence originated in the mid-1940s, yet the concerns they address remain vivid to the artist. She had hoped to issue this work in an edition of 54 in 1947, but only a few sets were assembled then. The Museum of Modern Art acquired its copy at that time.
For over twenty years, Bourgeois has talked to this author about completing the project. The major stumbling block was that the copperplates for the illustrations were missing, while the texts remained waiting on her selves. Always hoping to find the plates, she even sent me out into her neighborhood in Chelsea to a location that had housed a printshop decades earlier, but with no luck. For Bourgeois, who is a born archivist and saves everything, this loss has been especially painful. In the 1980s and 1990s, she worked with several printers to remake the plates, finally settling on the Harlan & Weaver workshop.
The present edition combines text pages Bourgeois retained since the 1940s and engravings reworked from 1995 to 2002. This time, as promised when the 1947 edition was first announced, she made color additions to some of the images. What we have is a new artwork, with Bourgeois exploring ideas from years earlier. As she revisited these compositions, modifying proofs that Felix Harlan pulled at his workshop or on the old printing press rebuilt in her basement, she recognized familiar emotional terrain but responded subtly with new feelings. Her well-known anthropomorphic structures show an awakened confidence here, standing on a firm ground of tonal aquatint that was lacking in the 1947 renderings. Touches of blue on some examples add a calming effect and suggest a level of hopefulness gained from lived experience. Yet details of red on others speak of an inner violence that can erupt at any time. One entirely new engraving with drypoint from 2001—02 returns to the claustrophobic room found among the earlier images, but this time it is occupied by a spider, reminding us of the artist’s preoccupations of the 1990s.
He Disappeared into Complete Silence has long been a touchstone for understanding Bourgeois’s work as a whole. In it she combines written and visual narratives that reflect personal worlds yet articulate universal emotions, shifting from stories of vulnerability and despair to those of strength and will. This publication allows viewers to witness her reinterpretation of these recurring themes after over fifty years of experience and insight.
Bourgeois' entire text for this volume appears below.
Once there was a girl and she
loved a man.
They had a date next to the
eighth street station of the sixth
She had put on her good clothes
and a new hat. Somehow he could
not come. So the purpose of this
picture is to show how beautiful
she was. I really mean that she
The solitary death of the Wool-
Once a man was telling a story,
it was a very good story too, and
it made him very happy, but he
told it so fast that nobody under-
In the mountains of Central
France forty years ago, sugar was
a rare product.
Children got one piece of it at
A little girl that I knew when
she was my mother used to be
very fond and very jealous of it.
She made a hole in the ground
and hid her sugar in, and she al-
ways forgot that the earth is damp.
Once a man was waving to his
friend from the elevator.
He was laughing so much that
he stuck his head out and the ceil-
ing cut it off.
Once a man was angry at his
wife, he cut her in small pieces,
made a stew of her.
Then he telephoned to his
friends and asked them for a
They all came and had a good
Once an American man who had
been in the army for three years
became sick in one car.
His middle ear became almost
Through the bone of the skull
back of the said ear a passage was
From then on he heard the
voice of his friend twice, first in
a high pitch and then in a low
Later on the middle ear grew
completely hard and he became
cut off from part of the world.
Once there was the mother of
a son. She loved him with a com-
And she protected him because
she knew how sad and wicked
this world is.
He was of a quiet nature and
rather intelligent but he was not
interested in being loved or pro-
tected because he was interested
in something else.
Consequently at an early age he
slammed the door and never came
Later on she died but he did not