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Cat. No. 1228-1229

He Disappeared into Complete Silence, first and second editions

1947 (first edition); 2005 (second edition)
Abstraction, Architecture, Nature, Objects, Spiders
Aquatint, Drypoint, Engraving, Other, Photogravure
First edition of an illustrated book with 9 compositions: 9 engravings, 2 with drypoint, 1 with drypoint and scorper

Second edition of an illustrated book with 11 compositions: 11 engravings, 10 over photogravure, 4 with aquatint, 4 with drypoint, 1 with scorper, and 6 with watercolor additions. (See Curatorial Remarks)
Smooth, wove paper
page (approx.): 10 × 7" (25.4 × 17.8 cm); plate sizes vary
See each edition
First edition: the artist,
Second edition: The Museum of Modern Art, New York
First edition: The artist at Atelier 17, New York,
Second edition: Harlan & Weaver, New York, for engraving, drypoint, aquatint, scorper,
Renaissance Press, Ashuelot, NH, for photogravure (see Curatorial Remarks),
Iris Editions, New York for photogravure
First edition: 54 announced (44 numbered: 1-15 with color additions; 10 H.C. lettered A-J) (see Edition Information)

Second edition: 30; plus 12 A.P., 2 H.C., 1 B.A.T., 1 P.P., 1 T.P.
See each edition
Edition Information:
First Edition: The edition was not completed as announced on the colophon in 1947; it seems that few volumes were issued at that time. In research for this catalogue raisonné, 20 examples were identified either in person or by photographic images. One of these examples was purchased by the artist and later dismantled, leaving 19 existing examples.

Examples include those that are known to be, or are thought to be, issued in 1947 or thereabouts; these have been designated as “vintage” for cataloguing purposes. As of 2018, there are 10 known “vintage” examples. Others were put together by the artist in later years from texts and plates still in her possession; those are designated as “assembled.” As of 2018, there are 9 “assembled” examples; the artist put them together at various times (1 in 1972, 5 in the 1980s, 2 in the 1990s, 1 date unknown).

All examples of the book have been numbered for cataloguing purposes. Example 1 is in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was acquired in 1947, the year of publication. It is therefore designated as “vintage.” In addition, for documentation, it is considered the standard book against which other examples are compared. There are many variations in the known examples of the first edition, particularly for those designated as “assembled.” For details, see each example of the first edition.

Second edition: The edition is standard and was completed as announced in 2005.
First edition: 12 unnumbered pp (including title, dedication, and introduction); 24 unnumbered pp (including “Nine Engravings” title page, text pages, colophon, and back cover), with 9 plates interspersed.

Second Edition: 6 unnumbered pp (including title, copyright, contents and foreword from 2005); 12 unnumbered pp (including title, dedication, and introduction from 1947); 24 unnumbered pp (including “Nine Engravings” title page, text pages, colophon, and back cover from 1947), with 10 plates interspersed; 4 pp (including “Spider 2001-02” title page from 2005), with 1 plate interspersed; 2 unnumbered pp (including 2005 colophon).
Printer of Text:
First edition: Gemor Press, New York,
Second edition: Gemor Press, New York for 1947 text pages,
The Grenfell Press, New York for 2005 text pages
First edition:
Unbound. Beige linen cover (overall: 11 x 7 5/8 x 3/4” [28 x 19.4 x 1.9 cm]), with brown, very slightly textured paper lining and flaps to hold book in place. On the cover: off-white label, 2 5/8 x 2 ¾” (6.7 x 6.9 cm), printed in black: “LOUISE / BOURGEOIS.” On the spine: off-white label, 1/2” x 2 5/8” (1.3 x 6.8 cm), printed in black: “BOURGEOIS;” off-white label, ½ x 5/8” (1.2 x 6.8 cm), printed in black: “GEMOR.”

Some examples include a pink paper wrap-around band, 4” (10.2 cm) high, intended to encircle the cover, printed in black: “9 original line engravings by LOUISE BOURGEOIS / with an introduction by MARIUS BEWLEY / edition limited to 44 signed copies.”

Second edition:
Unbound. Beige linen cover (overall: 10 ½ x 7 9/16 x 5/8” [26.7 x 19.2 x 1.6 cm]), with brown textured paper lining and flaps to hold book in place. On the cover: off-white label, 2 ¾ x 2 5/8” (6.9 x 1.6 cm), printed in black: “LOUISE / BOURGEOIS.” On the spine: off-white label, ½ x 2 5/8” (1.3 x 6.7 cm), printed in black: “BOURGEOIS.”

Claudia Cohen Bookbinder, Seattle, Washington, produced the cover, modeled after the 1947 edition.

Pink paper wrap-around band, 4” (10.2 cm) high, intended to encircle the cover, printed in black: “HE DISAPPEARED / INTO COMPLETE / SILENCE / 1947-2005.”
Benefit Work:
Second Edition: For the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bourgeois’s diaries indicate that early in 1947, with the hope of making her work more widely known, she decided to assemble an illustrated book with prints she had made at the Atelier 17 workshop. Her first concept was a seven-print portfolio titled "Les Sept Jours de Ia Semaine" (The Seven Days of the Week). She writes that her ideal publisher would have been Caresse Crosby's Black Sun Press. Remembering that in the 1990s, she laughed and said, "that was a fantasy,'' since Crosby was so well known and Bourgeois was at an early stage of her career.

In her diary, Bourgeois also recounts meetings with poet and literary scholar, Marius Bewley, who wrote the introduction to “He Disappeared into Complete Silence.” They discussed titles of prints and parables to accompany them. Finally, plate numbers were used for the individual prints rather than titles. Two phrases incorporated in the book in lieu of full parables are mentioned in the back-and-forth with Bewley. They are: "The Solitary Death of the Woolworth Building” (accompanying Plate 2) and "Leprosarium Louisiana" (accompanying Plate 6). Titles mentioned but not ultimately used were "Visitors,'' "Maison sans Yeux" (House without Eyes), and "Manhattan Island."

It seems that the book’s overall title, “He Disappeared into Complete Silence,” was first considered as the title for an individual print. Notes also suggest that more than the final nine prints were contemplated; Bourgeois mentions at least twelve additional titles and seven additional brief parables. Some of those titles are "Slow Pulse,'' "The Field Has Been Plowed,'' "Oily Body,'' "X Rays,'' and "Insomnia." In the 1990s, she confirmed that she had originally considered several other compositions for inclusion, remembering, in particular, “L'Allée Montante” (The Uphill Path) (cat. no. 558), “Pont Transbordeur” (Drawbridge) (cat. no. 523), “Le Phare” (The Lighthouse) (cat. no. 644), and “Sacs Ouvert” (Open Sacks) (cat. no. 675). (Related inscriptions appear on these prints.)

In addition to her discussions with poet and scholar, Bewley, Bourgeois sought advice from Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founding director of The Museum of Modern Art, and a friendly acquaintance in this period. In a letter, Barr suggested a revision of the parable accompanying Plate 8, but Bourgeois did not incorporate it. Barr was an early supporter of Bourgeois's work, acquiring an example of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence” for MoMA’s Collection in 1947, as well as a 1950 sculpture “Sleeping Figure,” in 1951. In the illustrated book “the puritan”, of 1990 (cat. no. 1072-1079), Bourgeois’s text is a 1947 story she had written about Barr, but she does not name him.

It is clear that “He Disappeared into Complete Silence” was an enormous effort for Bourgeois, preoccupying her throughout 1947. There are diary notes about visits to the Print Room of the Brooklyn Museum to study the construction of portfolios; she describes the important features of flaps, covers, and so on, also noting that, "The text should go along with the pictures." She later remembered that with all the organizational aspects of the project, and with the effort needed to finish a relatively large quantity of prints, her final decisions regarding the sequence of plates, and the pairings of images and particular texts, were made in great haste.

In her 1948 diary, there are references to Bourgeois’s attempts, after the project was completed, to bring it to the attention of critics, among them art critic, Clement Greenberg, and literary critic, Philip Rahv, as well as to a broader art public. Some books were left with book dealers Georges Wittenborn and Harold E. Briggs; others were given away. An off-pink postcard order form exists in two versions: in one, the printed address of Wittenborn is on one side and that of Briggs on the other, along with ordering instructions and pricing at $20. The other version has a separate card for each dealer, with an image of Plate 6 on the verso. Finally, Bourgeois took out ads in “Partisan Review,” vol. 16: No. 3 (March 1949), No. 8 (August 1949), and No. 9 (Sept. 1949). The ad includes a detail of Plate 6 and the information that the volume (limited and signed) was for sale for $20 at Betty Parsons Gallery, 15 E. 57 St, NYC.

The announced edition of the book was not completed in 1947. This frustrated Bourgeois and, much later, in the early 1980s, she began efforts to reissue this work, hoping to complete the edition she had begun so many years earlier. The printing plates no long existed, so she set about producing new ones. She worked first, in 1984, with printer Deli Sacilotto, director of Iris Editions, New York, to create photogravures of 1947 engravings of Plate 1, Plate 3, and the “Alternative Plate.” Then, in 1990, she created engraved versions of Plates 2 and 6 with the assistance of Christian Guérin of Gravure, New York. First, though, in order to determine whether Guérin’s engraving was suitable, she asked him to engrave two similar compositions. (See “Atlantic Avenue: Transparent Houses” [cat. nos. 1054.1, .2, .3].) In 1993, she finally turned the project over to printer Felix Harlan of Harlan & Weaver, New York. He made reprints of some 1984 photogravures and 1990 engravings. In addition, since by then Bourgeois had located three of the original printing plates from the 1940s (two versions of Plate 3 and one version of Plate 4), Harlan made reprints from those, but they were too distressed for use in a future edition. Ultimately, over many years, he coordinated and printed the second edition of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence.” It was finally published in 2005 to benefit the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (cat. no. 1229).
Artist’s Remarks:
This is “a drama of the self.... It is about the fear of going overboard and hurting others. Controlling oneself is always the goal… so one will not project one's own violence on others."

Bourgeois felt that ''the whole trend of this book is about the lowering of self-esteem. It is a descent… a descent into depression. But I believe in resurrection in the morning. This is a withdrawal, but it is temporary. You lose your self esteem, but you pull yourself up again. This is about survival… about the will to survive."

In discussing the parables that accompany the plates, Bourgeois remembered that she was not very careful about matching them with particular prints. “It was a real exorcism just to get all the prints out." She didn’t feel that the prints should be too closely interpreted by the texts. She might have even arranged them differently at different times. But the parables in themselves were very important to her. "I love language. I have fun with the English language because of the loving permissiveness of my family." Even though Bourgeois remembered ''massacring the language," she added, ''no one ever criticized my English." Her father believed learning English was very important. About these parables, she said: "When inspiration would come I would write one. I didn't do them all at once."

For Bourgeois, the act of writing was a strategy in itself. "You can stand anything if you write it down. You must do it to get hold of yourself. When space is limited, or when you have to stay with a child, you always have recourse to writing. All you need is a pen and paper. But you must redirect your concentration." Even though writing was ''not completely satisfying," she was happy to have it available when she wanted to be ''sarcastic or self-defeating toward the self.... Words put in connection can open up new relations… a new view of things." (Quotes cited in Wye, Deborah and Carol Smith. "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois." New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 72.)
Curatorial Remarks:
Descriptions of contents, dimensions, and pagination cited are from examples of the first edition and second edition in MoMA’s Collection.

In the Description field for the second edition, the techniques include “scorper.” This embossing technique, appearing on Plate 7, is omitted in the list of techniques on the colophon.

The Printer of the second edition, Renaissance Press, relocated from Hinsdale to Ashuelot, New Hampshire. On the colophon, the place is given as Hinsdale.
Author Information:
First edition: Text by the artist; Introduction by Marius Bewley.

Second edition: Text by the artist; Introduction by Marius Bewley; Foreword by Deborah Wye.

Marius Bewley (American, 1918-1973), author of the Introduction, was a poet and literary scholar, who also served for a year (1944-45) as Peggy Guggenheim’s assistant at her New York gallery, Art of This Century. (A slightly altered version of his text appears in “Tiger’s Eye” I, no. 7 [March 15, 1949], 89-92.)

Deborah Wye, author of the Foreword to the second edition, was MoMA’s Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books in 2005, the date of publication. She is a scholar of Bourgeois’s work and is the Editor of this online catalogue raisonné.
Most books and catalogues surveying Bourgeois’s work include a discussion of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence,” as well as illustrations of some, if not all, plates and parables.

Other references of note:
Bourgeois, Louise. “He Disappeared into Complete Silence.” Paris: Éditions Dilecta, 2008. Trade edtion. Edition: 2000. (This edition was made from Example 7 [Louise Bourgeois Trust], but it includes French translations.)

Cluitmans, Laurie, and Arnisa Zeqo, eds. “He Disappeared into Complete Silence: Rereading a Single Artwork by Louise Bourgeois.” With texts by Mieke Bal, Maria Barnas, Lytle Shaw, Robert Storr, Steven ten Thije, and Arnisa Zeqo. Haarlem, Netherlands: De Hallen Haarlem, 2011.

Nixon, Mignon. “He Disappeared into Complete Silence: Fantastic Reality.” In “Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art.” Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2005, pp. 83-117.
Former Cat. No.:
W & S 29-38
This Work in Other Collections:
First Edition:
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Example 1)
Louise Bourgeois Trust, New York (Example 2)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Example 3)
Louise Bourgeois Trust, New York (Example 7)
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Florence (Example 8)
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven (Example 9)
British Museum, London (Example 11)
New York Public Library (Example 12)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (Example 13)
Toledo Museum of Art (Example 14)
Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris (Example 16)

Second Edition:
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofía, Madrid (long-term loan from The Easton Foundation)
Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands
Jordon Schnitzer Family Foundation, Portland, OR
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo
Tate Modern, London
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

From the illustrated book

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  • Louise Bourgeois. He Disappeared into Complete Silence, first edition. 1947
    He Disappeared into Complete Silence...
    Louise Bourgeois. He Disappeared into Complete Silence, first edition. 1947
  • Louise Bourgeois. He Disappeared into Complete Silence, second edition. 2005
    He Disappeared into Complete Silence...
    Louise Bourgeois. He Disappeared into Complete Silence, second edition. 2005

Marius Bewley's introduction to the first and second editions is below:

There are several evocative levels in the nine engravings by Louise Bourgeois which comprise the present series. Since she has indicated one level herself by the titles and parables which accompany the plates, presumably this was the one at which her conscious awareness was most active during the creative process. In relating the parables to the engravings (and it had better be done in a very general way), it will be better to avoid any psycho-inquisitorial session, and confine one’s self to the obvious pattern and tone of the stories. Now these fables are just barely big enough to carry the plot, and it is always the same plot, repeated in a different way each time. They are all tiny tragedies of human frustration: at the outset someone is happy in the anticipation of an event or in the possession of something pleasing. In the end, his own happiness is destroyed either when he seeks to communicate it, or, perversely, seeks to deny the necessity for communication. The protagonists are miserable because they can neither escape the isolation which has become a condition of their own identities, nor yet accept it as wholly natural. Their attempts to free themselves, or accept their situation invariably end in disaster, for the first is impossible, and the second is abnormal. One man becomes a tragic figure when he discovers he cannot tell other people why he is happy. He tries, but nobody can understand his speech. Another man in his anxiety to maintain a human relationship waves desperately from an elevator to his friend below, and is beheaded for his pains. A girl who is in love with a man puts on her best dress to meet him, but he fails to keep the appointment, and the happiness she had to share remains locked and wasted in herself. An ex-soldier, because of partial deafness, believes that a barrier has grown up between himself and the world. But after an operation has restored his hearing, he finds the kind of communication he hoped to insure [sic] is not simply a matter of physical integrity, but of something more difficult to achieve. The world of spiritual values withdraws from him farther because he has mistaken the means of approaching it. The two last stories describe the defeat of those who do not struggle against their isolation, but seek their happiness in private possession only. There is the little girl who loves sugar so much she would willingly not share it with anyone else; so she buries it in the ground, forgetting that the dampness will certainly destroy it. And like the possessive little girl, there is the mother who seeks to imprison her son in her selfish affection for him, only to have him break resentfully away.

This difficulty of communication that springs from the individual’s isolation in himself has always been present in society in some degree, but it remained for this century to confront its special fury. For a good many years it has been the esthetic concern with which artists have been most occupied, but to let it rest on a plane of verbal or visual strategy is both to underestimate and misunderstand it. It is really a problem of cultural and spiritual desiccation which has occurred because of the progressive failure of asumptions [sic] on which men have been evaluating themselves and their prospects since the Renaissance began. Their insistence on individuality, for example, has been so conspicuous, at least in those countries which were most thoroughly worked over under the direction of Renaissance attitudes, that everyone became so individual that now only the most flagrant politics, and the most arbitrary ideas of collective association can bind them into anything like homogeneity. The heart of culture is lost, and unity is superimposed, an embellishment from the outside. As an integrating substitute for culture, politics cannot ease loneliness, or return us to our common species from which we have wrenched ourselves by the violence of ambition and uncentred curiosity. Under such circumstances it is not remarkable that the difficulty of communication between men has become intensified. If they share a language together, the other points of reference which a culture should offer them they hold so little in common that their meaning must usually remain, to a degree perhaps unprecedented, a private one—that is, if they really have anything to say at all. It is inevitable that our art should offer, either directly or indirectly, a comment on this cultural exhaustion, and on the human situation which arises from it, for it is the business of art to present an experience in its organic totality.

All this is well enough known, even if not believed in, and perhaps an apology might seem in order for beginning a brief introduction of this nature with observations which, to those who are disinclined to accept their validity, may seem pretentious. But the recognitions and the feelings which attend such a conviction seem to me to be operative in these engravings, and to constitute the foundation of their effectiveness. I do not know if Louise Bourgeois explicitly thought like this when she executed the plates, nor is it important to know. The parables may be taken as marking her point of departure, and it is indicative enough. The engravings begin with a problem in human relations, with something that resolves itself to a basic frustration, but leaving that at once, they undertake a visual exploration of the context which frames the individual defeat. In the nature of the case, the context must be a cultural one. And I had better say right now that the success of these etchings seems to me to lie in the way Louise Bourgeois unfolds the personal mood which adheres to the particular episode behind each title into the impersonal and wider implication in which it always ends. The people n [sic] the parables do not actually show up in the engravings. Since they have lost the power of communication, the most essential of their human characteristics, they are not really persons any longer, and that is their tragedy. It is an invisible tragedy, a classic act of violence performed behind the scenes, but we know about it because the buildings which conceal the action are themselves the symbols of what they hide. They symbolize both the particular tragedy and its farthest meaning. Human events and experiences, even architecture, are never merely things-in-themselves. They are counterpointed with a cultural movement which accompanies and surrounds them, and transforms their private meanings into something else. To some extent the buildings in these engravings describe this complex pattern, but in such a way that it is the individual rather than the historical value that counts for most. The more one looks at these engravings the more one realizes how closely, even how poignantly connected, the buildings and the parables really are.

The buildings are probably skyscrapers in Manhattan, and yet they somehow implant an uncertainty in one’s mind. One remembers those square defensive towers which the nobles of Florence erected during their first period of civil war at the close of the twelfth century. For a time Florence was bristling with towers, and from their tops neighbours shot crossbows at each other all morning, or speared their friends in the streets below as if they were boars. One thinks particularly of the towers when the fighting ended, deserted and half in ruins. But they are equally suggestive of the American scene itself, considered from a special point of view. These ambiguous structures remind one of the cranes on loading docks, the elevators in building yards, all the endless industrial activity which, in the end, adds up to nothing. The loneliness is as smothering as in a western ghost town, and carries its peculiar charge of poetry. In America, conditions conspired to accelerate the process by which the assumptions of the Renaissance brilliantly began to burn out everywhere else almost from the very beginning. In America the destructive, beautiful fire was later, and by contrast, brighter. It also consumed itself at a greater rate of speed. It may be objected that there is still much optimism, much hope left. But it is hope of something else, and something much less, whether the difference be admitted or not. The lonely towers in these engravings, if thought of as American, betray that difference, in emotional terms. They are rather like the souvenirs of a receding greatness cherished by some exhausted, aging child prodigy. But whether pre-Renaissance towers or post-Renaissance skyscrapers are intended does not matter, for the emotional condition in which they are perceived is a solvent that destroys the difference between them. They are still the buildings where the elevator shafts and the assignations in the parables occur. And they speak of a frustration, fear, and loneliness that grew up through a wide curve of time that has not come full circle yet. When we look at Plate I we know that the four spoked wheel at the top of the tower will never turn, because it is crossed by three vertical lines that hold it stationary, and we look with amazement at the bonfire in Plate IV which is burning without fuel. Saddest of all is the slack rope that hangs from the artist’s scaffold or the movable crane—one is not sure what it is—in Plate V, for one feels that no hand will ever grasp it, or make it taut again. These symbols represent the solitude that presses in on the human consciousness when human energy is at its lowest ebb.

Such en [sic] emotion as these engravings represent is neither direct nor simple. Obviously it has nothing to do with those basic human drives which a certain type of critic today predicates of what he calls “primary art.” Just as obviously, it has little to do with the senses. I do not know if it begins or ends in the intellect, but however that may be, it is an emotion which approximates a peculiar kind of intellection. It expresses itself by a sensitive visual logic, and it is perfectly at home within the rules of that logic. There is, for example, an expository quality in the straight incisiveness of the lines which dovetail into each other at their intersections like the points of a discursive argument, and one remarks how the tower structures tend to be divided into three parts, almost like the terms of a syllogism. But most of all, one notes that although a horizon line is usually given, it is always lowly placed. It might almost be the floor line of a room great enough to enclose the smaller structures. This sense of enclosure is enforced by the regular texture of the background, which suggests a wall rather than aerial atmosphere. Even the introduction of a star in one of the plates fails to despel [sic] the illusion entirely. Now the effect of this is to represent an unromantic universe, logically confined within the limits of a rational definition. The eye does not race to the horizon, and so on outward to infinity. It remains to face the problem, which is clearly stated in what might be described as a primarily cognitative way of seeing and drawing. The problem, it has already been said, is simply that of loneliness and isolation presented in terms of a cultural failure as it impinges on the individual. And as the problem arises within a cultural frame, the scrutiny is conducted, one might almost say the answer is sought, within the limits of that frame. And perhaps there may be some kind of personal answer possible. The engravings are nostalgic and lonely, but the note is not that of oppresive [sic] despair. One looks at the submerged skyscrapers in the final plate, so effectively rich in conflicting associations. One does not know whether these are merely destructive waters over them (that does not seem quite the emotional significance intended), or waters of faith, healing, and fertility. One reads the accompanying parable, and finds the same ambiguity there, for if the mother is destroyed, the son is saved.

This problem of isolation and cultural failure is one which every modern artist has had to deal with after his own fashion. If a special point is made of it here it is because these engravings are so simple and direct that their plaintive insistences on the theme, like the melody of a recorder, offers something rather out of the ordinary. It is as if the artist had viewed the problem through one of those reducing glasses that seventeenth century Dutch artists sometimes used to study an interior before painting it to a sharper focus than they could have achieved with the unaided eye. Beginning with the situations of the parables, the emotion is abstracted, and then intensified by seeng [sic] it through the diminishing glass of our cultural crisis. The personal tragedy is by no means disqualified in this process. It remains the prime motive in the final product, while the theme of isolation, performs on the most intimate, most civilized of stages with a modesty that is in itself engaging.