This opening room contains a series of paintings made in the 1940s, shown with a sculpture from much later in Bourgeois’s career. Despite a gap of almost half a century, both the Femme Maison series and the later Cell (Choisy) reflect Bourgeois’s continuing fascination with identity, the home, and her place within it.
Femme Maison means ‘housewife’: literally, ‘woman house’. In these paintings, as in so much of her work, Bourgeois shows the home as an essentially female place, in which she can explore ideas about female identity. She said the Femme Maison ‘does not know that she is half naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding’.
Much later, in the 1990s, Bourgeois made a number of life-size rooms, or ‘environments’, known as the ‘cells’. By this time she had spoken extensively about her traumatic childhood and her anger towards her tyrannical father, who made Louise’s English governess his mistress. The carved marble house at the centre of Cell (Choisy) 1990–3 is a scale model of her childhood home.