Summary

Children in Tub is one in a portfolio of fourteen drypoint etchings collectively titled Autobiographical Series. It is a version of an image created the previous year titled Tub, an etching which exists in five states, and is related to drawings Bourgeois made in the 1940s. It depicts two children, one standing, one sitting, in an old-fashioned claw-footed bath. In this later version the children's legs can be seen through the side of the bath. The inspiration for this image comes from the New York apartment Bourgeois lived in with her family in the 1940s, when her children were small. Looking at a version of this image, she has commented:

This is the bathroom at 18th Street. Everything is exactly the same … the cabinet… the tub with the feet … it is very accurate. I'm asked all the time … but I never say … it was a lot of work to get through the day … It was really something to have three children and also try to work. It was a lot of physical work. I could never carry a child, even when they were very little … I had to have ways to hoist them. So here they help each other. They are happy … it is very tender.

(Quoted in Wye, p.234.)

Bourgeois's work is based, more or less overtly, on memory. She has said:

Some of us are so obsessed with the past that we die of it. It is the attitude of the poet who never finds the lost heaven and it is really the situation of artists who work for a reason that nobody can quite grasp. They might want to reconstruct something of the past to exorcise it. It is that the past for certain people has such a hold and such a beauty ... Everything I do was inspired by my early life.

(Bourgeois, p.133.)

Printmaking, like drawing, has been an important element in Bourgeois's artistic production. She first took it up in 1938, the year she moved to New York with her husband, the American art historian Robert Goldwater (1907-73). She experimented widely with techniques and effects, producing an important portfolio of etchings titled He Disappeared into Complete Silence (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) in the 1940s. After a long break she took up printmaking again in 1973, the year her husband died. In the late 1980s Bourgeois began collaborating with workshops and publishers. She started to rework and reprint some of her old plates and to create new portfolios. Many of the images in the Autobiographical Series had already appeared in earlier forms. They range broadly in time and concept, encompassing both specific memories and more abstracted and ambiguous states of being. The portfolio was published in an edition of thirty-five plus ten artist's proofs by Peter Blum Edition, New York, and printed by Harlan & Weaver Intaglio, New York. See Tate P77683-93 and P77695 for the other images in the series.

Further reading:
Louise Bourgeois, Marie-Louise Bernadac, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, London 1998
Charlotta Kotick, Terrie Sultan, Christian Leigh, Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory, Works 1982-1993, The Brooklyn Museum, New York 1994
Deborah Wye, Carol Smith, The Prints of Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1994, pp.234-5

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2001