Lot 9
  • 9

Louise Bourgeois

4,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Spider III
  • incised with initials, numbered 5/6 and stamped MAF 99 on the underside
  • bronze
  • 19 by 39 1/2 by 37 1/2 in. 48.2 by 100.3 by 95.2 cm.
  • Conceived in 1995 and cast in 1999.


The Artist
Private Collection, Washington, D.C.
Cheim & Read, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Munich, Barbara Gross Galerie, Bodyscape, March - April 1996 (edition no. 1/6)
Brussels, Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, December 1996 - February 1997 (edition no. 2/6)
Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center, Louise Bourgeois: Ode à Ma Mère, April - June 1997 (edition no. 1/6)


B. H. Walsh, "Arachni-Mania," City Beat, Cincinnatti, April 17-23, 1997, p. 35, illustrated (edition no. 1/6)
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, 2000, pp. 62-63, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)


This sculpture is in very good condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at (212) 606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Wilson Conservation.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Stirring with the vigor of imminent action, Louise Bourgeois’ Spider III swells with a palpable energy that belies the inherent stasis of its cast bronze form. Executed in 1995, this affecting sculpture is an early and indelibly dynamic iteration on what has become the most celebrated series of the artist’s career and arguably her signature theme. Its eight wiry legs flared in agitation, arched with the tension of a creature poised to strike, Spider III broadcasts an inimitable vitality: it is at once sentimental and foreboding, nostalgic and powerful. For Bourgeois, art was more than a means of expression – it was a way of existing in the world– and the metaphors and symbolic figurations that populate her oeuvre navigate the thin divide between several dualities: the self and the other, nurture and destruction, love and abandonment.  Emerging first in the ephemeral environment of her early drawings, Bourgeois’ Spider eventually towered triumphantly over the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2000 with the gargantuan Maman (1999). The resurgence of the Spider in sculptural form in Bourgeois’ work of the mid-1990s was momentous and revelatory, attesting to the primacy of this frightening yet fragile creature in the artist’s imagination. In its irrepressible dynamism and striking physical composition, Spider III exists as a stunning paradigm of Bourgeois’ arachnid works, a series that as a whole looms large amongst the art historical icons of the Twentieth Century.

Images of a spider recur throughout Bourgeois’ work, constituting a prolonged series of drawings, sculptures, prints, and installations, each representing a large creature, hovering over a page, a wall, a ceiling, a room, or above one of the artist’s architectural Cell installations. First explored by the artist in a small ink and charcoal drawing of 1947, Bourgeois’ favored theme was not translated into the third dimension until 1994, the year just preceding the present work’s execution. The first Spider sculpture was constructed using found forms: legs made from straight sections of steel tube bent at angles to support a torso comprised of a glass jar with a rounded base that hung below a steel globe. The present Spider is executed in the bronze medium that would come to define subsequent works from the cycle. Spiders are powerfully evocative, sparking primal emotions ranging from fear to comfort, and for Bourgeois, they spoke of childhood and a narrative of home, filled with woven webs of past memories informing her present. In a text published for her 1998 European traveling exhibition, the artist related an extensive dream narrative about visiting a house that is in fact, her subconscious. Within this house of memory and reflection, the Spider is the other being, acting as both an entrapping predator and a benign presence fostering creativity. As the Spider wove, so Bourgeois drew and sculpted. In biographical terms, the Bourgeois family business was to restore antique tapestries, so the narrative aspect of art was a core concept that Bourgeois used to potent effect with her metaphorical mother, the Spider. “An eight-legged shadow will loom over me. I wouldn’t be afraid though. ...The spider would… begin to sew, for me and forever, a huge web to tuck me in. She’d seal all the openings, block all the doors, repair all the torn fabric, line the stairs with downy threads to soften potential falls, fill all the empty corners. ...She’d stay here forever, by my side…” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, 1998, p. 10)

The maternal, nurturing character of the Spider is unmistakable in Bourgeois’ dream-play, and becomes explicit in a text published with a suite of nine Spider etchings from 1995 titled Ode à Ma Mère: “The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me, …” This seminal set of etchings gave way to an exhibition of the same name, staged two years later at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, at which another example of the bronze Spider III was featured. The final allusion to a need for protection hints at the very contradictory emotions and impulses of this most complex artist, all emanating from the basic trauma of her early life which she filtered through her art to construct a mythic legend that permeated her aesthetic psyche.

While Spider III and its illustrious family of arachnids of different shapes and sizes are exceptionally personal works, Bourgeois’ art still retains a deeply mysterious and subtle air, hinting at reserves of experience and memory that may mirror both the artist and the viewer’s perception.  In writing of Bourgeois’ rich metaphorical landscape, Jerry Gorovoy commented, “Through shape and line, material and texture, Bourgeois is able to give a palpable specificity to her memories. More than just marking time, and nostalgic reminiscing, Bourgeois wants through her sculpture to re-create the past, to have total recall to the emotions, to analyze the event, to control it, to correct it, and finally to forgive and forget it. …Bourgeois’ sculptures mark a collection of traumas, fears, anxieties, resentments, and unfulfilled desires which through her sculptures she is able to exorcise.’’ (Exh. Cat., Yokohama Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, 1997, n. p.)