"1/30" lower center colophon, pencil, unknown hand.
PLATES: The plates in the second edition were based on plates of a first edition example in the collection of the New York Public Library (cat. no. 1228, Example 12). The NYPL plates were photographed and then photogravure plates were made from the photographs by Renaissance Press, Ashuelot, NH.
The NYPL example is considered “assembled” because it was put together by the artist in the 1980s with texts and plates from the 1940s that remained in her possession. There are several differences between the NYPL’s “assembled” first edition and the “vintage” first edition example in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, which was acquired in 1947, the date of publication (see cat. no. 1228, Example 1). Those differences are reflected in the new plates for the 2005 second edition. They are as follows:
NYPL Plates 3, 7, and 9 are earlier states of the compositions used in MoMA’s “vintage” Example 1. NYPL’s example includes a tenth plate, the “Alternative Plate,” which is not included in MoMA Example 1.
The second edition includes eleven plates: the nine original plates, the “Alternative Plate,” and a new plate entitled “Spider.”
SIGNATURES AND PLATE NUMBERS: Bourgeois signed the plates and added the plate number inscriptions at different times. In MoMA’s example of the book, her handwriting size varies for these elements and may vary throughout the edition. For the plate numbers in MoMA’s example, she uses an upper case “P” on all plates except Plates 1 and 9, where she uses the lower case. Such variations may exist throughout the edition. The “LB” signatures were completed in May-June 2002. The plate numbers were added a year later, in June-July 2003. The colophons were signed in March 2005.
TEXT PAGES: The 30 books in the second edition of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence” are made up of text pages from the first edition of 1947 that remained in Bourgeois’s possession. The books also include text pages made specifically for the second edition: title page, copyright page, contents page, foreword, “Spider” title page, and colophon. (See Pagination.)
Supplementing the regular edition of 30 books are A.P., H.C., B.A.T., P.P., and T.P. examples. (See Edition.) The 1947 text pages in these examples show some distinctions. Descriptions, compiled by the Harlan & Weaver workshop, are as follows:
1/30-29/30: 1947 text pages do not include a signature on the colophon.
30/30: 1947 text pages do not include a signature on the colophon; the title page has erased pencil writing with circle drawn around it.
A.P. 1/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon with the signatures of Bourgeois, Marius Bewley (author of 1947 introduction), and Anaïs Nin (author, and owner of Gemor Press, where the 1947 text pages were printed). In addition, there is a pencil drawing by Bourgeois of a press (a book press?) on the verso of the back page of the text. (There are no other known examples of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence,” in the first or second editions with the signature of Anaïs Nin.)
A.P. 2/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois. Original 1947 text has “Missing plates” inscribed in pencil on cover of text. A slip of paper with “incomplete” [sic] written on it is inserted in the book.
A.P. 3/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois and numbered “22.” The title page has the following text written in pencil: “Missing text by Bewley / Bits and pieces.”
A.P. 4/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois and numbered “23.” This colophon seems to have once been part of first edition, Example 19 (Sotheby’s, November 9, 1984 Sale), which was purchased by the artist and dismantled. That Example was numbered “23.”
A.P. 5/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois.
A.P. 6/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois. The text also has a dedication: “with love Louise, June 1978” and (in different [?] writing): “theme of alienation, cruelty.”
A.P. 7/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois.
A.P. 8/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois. Text back cover has “10 plates, from 35 to 44” written on it.
A.P. 9/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois and Marius Bewley.
A.P. 10/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois.
A.P. 11/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois.
A.P. 12/12: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois.
B.A.T.: 1947 text pages are incomplete; the colophon is unsigned. The missing text pages (NINE ENGRAVINGS / Plate 1 / Plate 6) were reproduced in letterpress by Peter Kruty Editions, Brooklyn.
P.P.: 1947 text pages include a colophon signed by Bourgeois.
H.C.: 1947 text pages include a signed colophon by Bourgeois. This example does not include the 2005 text pages. When the prints from this set were framed, extra original text pages were used to complete the parables. There is no “H.C.” designation on this example; plates are initialed and numbered as in the regular edition.
H.C.: Full set of 2005 plates with no text pages from 1947 or from 2005. Each plate includes an “LB” chopmark in the lower right-hand corner. Plates are designated “H.C.” and not with plate numbers as in the regular edition.
T.P.: Full set of 2005 plates with no text pages from 1947 or from 2005. There is no “T.P.” designation on this example; plates are initialed and numbered as in the regular 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:
Gemor Press, New York for 1947 texts, The Grenfell Press, New York for 2005 texts
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.”
For the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bourgeois issued the first edition of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence” in 1947. (See cat. no. 1228.) At that time, while actively working in printmaking at the Atelier 17 workshop, she decided to create an illustrated book edition with hopes of making her work more widely known. As it turned out, the book was not a success and Bourgeois never completed the announced edition of 54 examples. It frustrated her that she had never finished the project and, much later, in the early 1980s, she began efforts to reissue the book.
Bourgeois could not locate the printing plates for the nine illustrations, so she set about producing new ones. She worked first, in 1984, with printer Deli Sacilotto, of Iris Editions, New York, to create photogravures using 1947 impressions of Plates 1, 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, Bourgeois finally turned the project over to printer Felix Harlan of Harlan & Weaver, New York, with whom she had begun to work on a regular basis. Harlan would ultimately serve as both printer and coordinator of the second edition. He started out by making reprints of some of the 1983 photogravures created with Sacilotto, and the 1990 engravings created with Guérin. 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. Finally, Bourgeois decided to work with photogravure as the starting-off point for all the compositions in the book, in order to keep the plates as close as possible to those of the 1947 edition. In 1995, new photogravure plates were made by Renaissance Press from photographs of the first edition in the New York Public Library (cat. no. 1228, Example 12). Working with Harlan, Bourgeois ultimately re-worked these photogravure plates with engraving, also adding aquatint, drypoint, scorper and watercolor additions in some instances.
The 1947 first edition of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence” includes “vintage” examples issued in 1947 or thereabouts, as well as “assembled” examples that Bourgeois compiled later from prints and texts that remained in her possession. Some of the “assembled” examples, including the one in the New York Public Library, have ten plates rather than the standard nine plates. The tenth plate is a composition called “Alternative Plate” for cataloguing purposes. The second edition includes this “Alternative Plate,” as well as an entirely new eleventh plate titled, “Spider.”
Bourgeois worked intermittently on this project for over a decade, with the second edition appearing in 2005 as a benefit publication for the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In addition to eleven plates, the book includes text pages from 1947 that had remained with Bourgeois, as well as a new table of contents, foreword, and colophon. The housing was constructed to match that of the 1947 first edition.
Bourgeois made the following remarks about the first edition of "He Disappeared into Complete Silence." There are no comparable remarks for the second edition.
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.)
In the Description field, the techniques include “scorper.” This embossing technique, appearing on Plate 7, is omitted in the list of techniques on the colophon.
According to printer Paul Taylor, of Renaissance Press, the print workshop re-located from Hinsdale to Ashuelot, New Hampshire. On the colophon, the place is given as Hinsdale.
The Renaissance Press made photogravures from photographs of all ten plates in the New York Public Library’s example of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence” (cat. no. 1228, Example 12) to serve as the starting-off point for the second edition (see Background). However, Bourgeois did not use the Renaissance Press tenth plate—the “Alternative Plate.” Instead, she chose to work on a photogravure of this plate made by Deli Sacilotto, of Iris Editions, New York, in 1984. The Contents page of the second edition gives the incorrect dates of (1995-2002) for this “Alternative Plate.” The correct dates should be (1984-2002).
Iris Editions was the imprint of Deli Sacilotto, a master printer who specialized in the photogravure technique. Bourgeois met Sacilotto through mutual friends and established a warm relationship with him. They worked together on projects in the early 1980s, and then again later, when Sacilotto joined Graphicstudio in Tampa, Florida and encouraged the artist to create the multiple, “Spider Home” (cat. no. 15).
Bourgeois is the author of the nine parables in "He Disappeared into Complete Silence." Marius Bewley is the author of the Introduction in the 1947 edition. Deborah Wye is the author of the Forward in the 2005 edition.
Marius Bewley (American, 1918-1973), author of the 1947 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 2005 Foreword, was MoMA’s Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at 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 the 1947 first edition of “He Disappeared into Complete Silence,” as well as illustrations of some, if not all, plates and parables. To date (2018), plates from the 2005 second edition have only occasionally been included in publications, and without lengthy text discussions.
Other references of note for the first edition: Bourgeois, Louise. “He Disappeared into Complete Silence.” Paris: Éditions Dilecta, 2008. Trade edition. Edition: 2000. (This edition was made from Example 7 of the first edition [Collection 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: Phantastic Reality.” In “Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art.” Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2005, pp. 83-117.
MoMA Credit Line:
Gift of the artist
MoMA Accession Number:
This Work in Other Collections:
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
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.
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