The French-American maîtresse of confessional art, Louise Bourgeois, was born on Christmas Day 1911.
Of her own inconveniently timed birth she said, “I was a pain in the ass when I was born. All these people had their oysters and champagne, and there I came. My mother was very apologetic and the doctor said, ‘Madame Bourgeois, really, you are ruining my festivity.’ When I was born my parents were fighting like cats and dogs. And the country was preparing for war, and my father, who wanted a son, got me.”
However, it’s not her formative years celebrated here within. It’s her very last ones, her decline documented in a portrait series by Alex van Gelder. Perhaps these pictures, some featured below, don’t make for the merriest holiday topic, but they are incredibly life affirming nonetheless.
These intimate shots of sagging skin, age spots and bulging veins are images of stillness and humility. They reinforce the inevitable fact that even the most brilliant, daring and theatrical among us must all age, but that it can occur with dignity and humour, and can leave the innovative spirit intact.
In her increasingly diminishing state, Bourgeois’ ability to embolden did not fade. Swaddled in thick blankets and skull caps, supported by a wheelchair, she never failed to cut a stately figure. Gone now, but never to be forgotten, her withered frame represents a reminder to create, create, create while one can in hopes that after the final, inevitable departure, others will see the wonders done and pick up the dropped paintbrush to inspire more beauteous futures.
Emily Catrice


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