Engraving, with scorper and monotype, and pencil and white gouache additions
Smooth, wove paper
plate: 8 3/4 x 6 7/8" (22.2 x 17.5 cm); sheet: 13 x 13 1/16" (33 x 33.1cm)
"L. Bourgeois." lower left margin, pencil. "1947" lower right margin, pencil.
Verso: "Atelier 17-1947" lower right margin, pencil, artist's hand; "le / grand flottant / 26 [circled]" center sheet, pencil, artist's hand; "SM" lower right sheet, pencil, artist's hand.
The alternate title "Le Grand Flottant" derives from an inscription on an impression of state XIII that is not in MoMA's Collection and is not included in the Evolving Composition Diagram below. The impression of state XIII that is not illustrated includes the following inscriptions: "le grand flottant"
Changes from state XII, by burnishing: lines in lower right partially removed. Changes from state XII, in engraving: new, rightmost form added; horizontal line added to form second from right.
Bourgeois talked about this composition as one that moves "away from realism. It is more symbolic and suggestive, but with a base in reality." She noted that all the "rigidity" present in "He Disappeared into Complete Silence" has "become looser.... This has to do with security... the security of the nest that does not have to stand on the floor. It is safer to be above."
There is "the notion of constant danger... day to day... a fight against danger... and for living." There is the safety of "nesting together" and "the bondage of people who sleep together." She spoke of a pomegranate wherein the "seeds can be seen nestling." She recalled some of her plaster lair sculptures of the sixties such as "Fée Couturière," with its openings that "allow only a tiny bird to go in."
Discussing the title, Bourgeois described "self-improvement" as "an ascent... a ladder." But the sentiments reflected in this print are not about "perfection," only about "going toward improvement." (Quote cited in Wye, Deborah and Carol Smith. "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois." New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 120.)
The artist appears to have incorrectly dated this impression, possibly in later years, as it conflicts with the date inscribed on a number of previous states.
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.
Acton, David. "Louise Bourgeois." In David Acton, The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionism. Worcester, MA: Worcester Art Museum, 2001, 78.
This text describes "Ascension lente" specifically as well as Bourgeois' printmaking career more generally.
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