Changes from state II, by scorper: center portion of composition removed. Changes from state II, in engraving: arch in center composition delineated; bottom of upper left form delineated.
Bourgeois referred to the early states of this print as depicting "mollusks... clams... and germination." According to her, it was not by plan but as part of the creative process that the subject turned into a fable of three fairies present at a birth. She related the fable to those she read her children when they were young. (Bourgeois collected illustrated books of fables and other children's literature.) She believed that one must "pacify these fairies so the child will be protected. It is the fairies who will take care of the baby, not the mother. They are a substitute for the mother." She went on to say: "If there is no good mother, there is no bad mother. You can destroy your mother." For the mother, this vulnerability serves "to push you and make you nervous. It becomes your job to play up to the fairies, to be on their good side in order to protect the child. They must be pleased."
"Les Trois Fées" reminded Bourgeois of the custom of choosing godparents for one's children. "The first thing you do is find a godmother and godfather. They are then duty-bound to take care of the children forever. This is a very practical idea."
In speaking about the creative process as it is seen in the evolving states of these prints, Bourgeois said: "You try and you try... suddenly it gets there. I didn't know that it would turn out that way. It is a mystery." The shapes are "soft, and loving... the stroking is calm. The white becomes perfect... you can see that it is a little, precious child in a garment." She believed now that she went too far on the plate. "The white should be the final stage... the later prints are a mistake." (Quote cited in Wye, Deborah and Carol Smith. "The Prints of Louise Bourgeois." New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 118.)
The study for this composition may have been created between states V and VI of the evolving composition.
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.
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