When looking at later states of this composition, Bourgeois saw this figure as "self-contained and alone... reflecting an effort to be self-reliant but also attractive." The fur of the coat is "radiating... in a beautiful shape. It is not a hacking action to make all those strokes... it is a caressing action. The surface is very organized... stable... montionless." The figure "is such a beautiful thing that she is lifted off the floor by feelings that make her very excited. She is pleased with herself and optimistic. She is out-of-reach." But Bourgeois went on to say that the figure "is probably dangerously aroused." She then referred to the title of the print, which comes from a short parable she wrote:
"Looking at me sideways, she said, 'Would you mind sweeping that room over? I can see some dust near the piano. Retracez vos pas [go back over it] and get it right.' 'Upon my word of honour, sir, I could not possibly do it here.' "
Bourgeois said that by "sweeping and dusting near the piano," the figure "turns herself into the recipient of a joke." The little offshoot at the front of the figure suggests "dusting" or "the desire to escape." Bourgeois also called the figure "self-implicating" and referred to an alternative title for the print, St. Thomas, as meaning "doubtful."
Bourgeois mentioned that the figure seemed "very full, as if there were an animal inside... yet it is afraid to let its head show, a bit the way a sea urchin might act. If it is touched, it closes up." (Quote cited in Wye, Deborah and Carol Smith. "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois." New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 116.)
An amendment has been made to the cataloguing of this composition in Wye and Smith, "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois," 1994, p. 116. Soft ground etching and drypoint have been removed as techniques. What appears to be soft ground etching is actually pencil, and what appears to be drypoint is actually shallow engraving.
The parable containing the title of this composition is found in slightly varied forms in several places, including 2 impressions of "Looking at Her Sidewise." The whole parable also appears on "Hanging Weeds" (cat. no. 645), "Ascension Lente" (cat. no. 610), seen below in Related Works in the Catalogue, and in the artist's daybook of 1947.
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.
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).