Louise Josephine Bourgeois was born in Paris on December 25, 1911. Her parents were in the tapestry business, and they opened a tapestry restoration shop when Bourgeois was a young child. As she grew older, she assisted her parents by creating drawings of tapestry designs in order to indicate how to properly restore the worn areas. In 1930, she began studying mathematics and geometry at Sorbonne. However, when her mother died in 1932, Bourgeois decided to give up mathematics in order to pursue an artistic education. She began her studies at the École des beaux-arts, and continued her education at the Académie de la grande chaumiére, École du Louvre, Atelier Fernand Léger, among other Parisian schools. In 1938, Bourgeois married American Robert Goldwater and moved to New York. In New York, she studied with the Art Students League of New York, and produced sculptures and prints.
In the early 1940’s, Bourgeois began creating sculptures from junkyard scraps and driftwood, and then camouflaging the wood with paint. An example of this would be her 1947-49 piece The Blind Leading the Blind, a version of which is at the Des Moines Art Center. In 1954, she joined the American Abstract Artists, along with members such as Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. As her work evolved, she moved on from using wood to sculpting out of latex, marble, plaster and glass. Bourgeois became known for her emotionally powerful sculptures which explore complex human emotions such as loneliness, jealousy, and anxiety. Later in her career, her work became more explicitly sexual which can be seen in her sculpture Janus Fleuri (1968) and Torso: Self-Portrait (1963-64). She is most known for her Maman sculptures (1999), which depict large spindly spiders constructed from bronze, stainless steel, and marble.
Bourgeois's achievements have been recognized with a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1973), membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1981), a grand prize in sculpture from the French Ministry of Culture (1991), the National Medal of Arts (1997), the Leone d'Oro (1999), a Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia (2005), the 2006 Intrepid Award from the National Organization for Women (2006), and the Woman Award from the United Nations and Women Together (2007), among others. Bourgeois died on May 31, 2010, in New York.