Due to the complicated nature of "the puritan" and how the project evolved with the publisher, background information is needed to understand the full edition. Benjamin Shiff approached Bourgeois in 1988 about an illustrated book project in association with The Limited Editions Club, after having seen a copy of "He Disappeared into Complete Silence," seen below in Related Works in the Catalogue, at The Museum of Modern Art. They met and discussed possible authors and texts, with Shiff suggesting Eugène Ionesco as one possibility. Bourgeois suggested Charles Baudelaire as a historical choice and Gary Indiana as a contemporary one. She finally showed Shiff two texts she had written years earlier. They chose one from 1947, "the puritan," which Shiff eventually published under his own imprint, Osiris, New York. The subject of "the puritan" is Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founding director of The Museum of Modern Art and Bourgeois's friend for many years.
To help Bourgeois prepare for the project, Shiff provided test plates prepared with soft ground and with hard ground. He often sat with her while she drew on these plates. Ultimately, Bourgeois chose to illustrate "the puritan" with engravings based on a 1988 series of drawings executed, sometimes on colored papers, in pencil, gouache, and colored inks. Since the drawings incorporated color, printing experiments were initially attempted with colored inks and colored chine collés. (These can be seen in some of the earlier states.) The engraving plates were executed with the assistance of Christian Guérin, of Gravure, New York, and most impressions of the early versions and/or states and variants were printed by Guérin. Edition printing was divided among several printers because of the size and extended nature of the project. For this reason, the publisher has not designated a particular printer or printers for individual plates (see Printer).
As editioning for the illustrated book proceeded, Bourgeois went on to arrange "the puritan" plates in several additional formats. All 4 formats of the project are noted below, and examples are included in the Evolving Composition Diagram for each plate. For the illustrated book, folio, and triptych formats, multiple examples are shown to demonstrate the variety of the hand additions. For the studies format, all 59 unique works are shown.
Illustrated books: The colophon does not reflect the true edition of the illustrated book format, as the project continued to evolve after it was printed. From a projected edition of 70 bound volumes, 63 were assembled. (25 volumes with hand additions; 38 volumes without hand additions) This edition does not include books with the following impression numbers: 19, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, and 43, as these 7 volumes were never assembled. The editioning process for this format was lengthy and the exact date of the hand additions is not known. The Louise Bourgeois Studio and the publisher therefore consider 1990 to be the date of publication for all works in this format. The 5 unbound volumes described on the colophon evolved into the folio format described below. There is 1 known maquette of the illustrated book, outside the edition. Some plates have paper collage. The plates from the maquette can be seen in the Evolving Composition Diagram for each plate.
Folio sets: Edition of 7 sets, comprised of each plate and its corresponding text appearing side by side. (6 sets with hand additions; 1 set without hand additions)
Triptych sets: Edition of 12 sets, comprised of two impressions of each plate, one on either side of its corresponding text. (All sets with hand additions)
Studies set: 57 multi-panel works and 2 single-panel works, all comprised of plates from "the puritan" project, and all with hand additions. Texts from “the puritan” are not included in this format. Of the 59 studies, 46 use impressions of one plate and are on the Evolving Composition Diagram of the plate used. The remaining 13 studies combine impressions of 2 different plates and can be seen in Related Works in the Catalogue for each plate used.
About the triptych sets: Varying hand additions appear on the plates across the edition of triptych sets. Digital images of sets 1 and 3-12 were examined and the varying hand additions are summarized on each plate. Images of set 2 were not available for examination; the hand additions on that set are unknown.
About the plate 1 hand additions in the triptych sets: The hand additions on this plate are in blue and white. The plate can appear in either vertical orientation. The tips of the form are filled in, and the background can also be filled in on some impressions.
State Changes and Additions:
Matrices: In this 3-panel work, the orientation of the plate differs from the illustrated book format in panels (a) and (c).
Printer of Text:
Wild Carrot Letterpress, Hadley, MA
In 1989-1990, Bourgeois began to work with the French printer, Christian Guérin of Gravure, New York. She admired Guérin's printing facilities and also felt a personal rapport with him. He helped her develop plates for several projects at that time, including the compositions that eventually illustrated "the puritan."
"With 'the puritan' I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance... I put it on a grid. Geometry was a tool to understanding... it was a pleasure... there was order. Instead of feeling a person drowning, I considered the situation objectively, scientifically, not emotionally. I was interested not in anxiety, but in perspective, in seeing things from different points of view. Looking and seeing... you look as you intend to look... you see what you can.
There is Euclidean geometry, but there are also a number of other geometries so you can have a way out from the rigidity of the Euclidean towards freedom. The Euclidean is comforting because nothing can go wrong... but it is not the geometry of pleasure. To survive you must have different routines... different geometries. But geometry is a tool... only a tool. It is a means, not an end.
All these plates are different. These are optical illusions... all have more than one meaning. You have one reality and I have another reality. How much liberty will the geometry take... how much will you take? What are the limits before it snaps? There is always the fear of losing consciousness of one's limits.... But the optical illusions are comforting... they have a measure of secrecy... people don't know what you are talking about. They force you to adjust your vision. You can not be so rigid... you must adjust to the picture." (Quotes cited in Wye, Deborah and Carol Smith. "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois." New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 191.)
About the first source drawing, 1988: "An ellipse is a geometrical figure that has two centers. If it has two centers, it is a richer statement than if it had one center. If you start at the center—you read the thing starting at the center that is a vertical from the bottom to the top—you will realize... but I couldn't even describe it; I would have to show it.
This is what I mean: it is a geometrical shape that functions around a vertical pole from top to bottom. And if you start at the bottom, you will realize there is an oval that is very narrow and is almost the shape of the pole. And then you have another one that goes up above, and so it is a progression. The beauty of it is that it has to become a cage—I could do it with wire—it becomes a cage and it is suspended; then it makes sense. Otherwise, you really have to know how to read it.
If you look at a tape winding, you see it is only in a horizontal movement, whereas this drawing implies horizontal and vertical movement. So it is a metaphor for finding equilibrium, and it is a metaphor for finding self-knowledge." (Quotes cited in Bourgeois, Louise and Lawrence Rinder. "Louise Bourgeois Drawings and Observations." Berkeley: University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive University of California, Berkeley; Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1995, p. 153.)
The hand additions, paper type, and impression number could not be fully documented because this work is not in MoMA's Collection and could not be examined in person. The plate dimensions are from an impression in MoMA's Collection. The sheet dimensions were provided by the Louise Bourgeois Studio.
Bourgeois's entire text for this volume appears below. The text was written in 1947.
Plate 1: Do you know the New York sky? You should, it is supposed to be known. It is outstanding. It is a serious thing. Can you remember the Paris sky? How unreliable, most of the time grey, often warm and damp, never quite perfect, indulging in clouds and shades; rain, breeze and sun sometimes managing to appear together. But the New York sky is blue, utterly blue. The light is white, a glorying white and the air is strong and it is healthy too. There is no foolishness about that sky. It is a beautiful thing. It is pure.
Plate 2: There was a street in New York and it was full of the New York sky. It spread over it like a blue aluminum sheet. At that particular place I know why that sky was so blue, so completely himself. Because right under him the most formidable building in the world was standing up. In that street, close to that sky and close to that building, there was a house. The sky, the building, and the house, knew each other and approved of each other.
Plate 3: This was not a living in structure. It was a working in one. There was efficiency, everyone looked clean, lots of type writing machines and type writing girls, but not the usual ones. These were earning a living with refined people and they knew it. You could see that in their postures and noises.
Plate 4: In this structure there was a man, there always is, so there was and he was very fine. He belonged to the place the way the place belonged to him. Everyone there was very fond of him and looked up to him. He accepted this because apart from being civilized he was kind. There was a definite well organized, successful and ambitiously satisfied feeling about the place.
Plate 5: The trouble came when one of the doors was left open and apparently someone came in. Maybe it was an oversight or a mistake but I doubt it because this was not in the style of that place, nor in the character of the man. We might assume the door was left open almost on purpose, as a half invitation to someone passing by to come in for fun.
Well she did, she came in, though she had no taste for fun. She saw him, she saw he was good and of course she loved him.
Plate 6: What happened next is that before they knew it something got between them. The wisdom of nations wants that nothing can keep apart people who love each other. Not even a million armed men packed around that house could have kept them together. There was still to try to help them, such things as a common friend, a sheet of paper, and the telephone, don't forget. They saw each other sometimes too; and the eyes of someone you understand can tell you more than four Western Union telegrams.
But there it was. There was a snap, and there was silence. First an expecting silence, and then the silence of the completely dead.
Plate 7: I told that story to my neighbor who is a resourceful man, and he assured me that some men are afraid of soldiers around their house. That besides, telephones can be tapped and typewriters have ears. Even a sheet of paper frail as it is can be frightening. But I told my neighbor he was wrong because that man was afraid of nothing, that he was just, and because of this should have had nothing to fear.
Plate 8: Later on he died right in his factory of refinement. Everyone worth talking about cried and cried. Of course no one could see his soul, not even his wife. But they said that his body was dry and they think he was a puritan.
If you are interested in reproducing images from The Museum of Modern Art web site, please visit the Image Permissions page (www.moma.org/permissions). For additional information about using content from MoMA.org, please visit About this Site (www.moma.org/site).