Lot 33: Louise Bourgeois, Escalier de 63, lithograph, 1939. Estimate $3,000 to $5,000.
It’s not often that an unrecorded print turns out to be the real thing, but in Swann Galleries’ November 15 Contemporary Art auction, that is the case! We are pleased to offer the Louise Bourgeois lithograph Escalier de 63, the first recorded impression of this image. The print, inscribed “L. Bourgeois” in the margin, was formerly in the collection of the artist Will Barnet. Barnet worked with Bourgeois at the Art Students League, New York, printing several of her early lithographs, including Composition and Summer.
Lot 31: Louise Bourgeois, Composition, lithograph, 1940-44. Estimate $1,500 to $2,500.
Lot 32: Louise Bourgeois, Summer, lithograph, 1941-42. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000.
Given its provenance, we examined the unrecognized print with the help of the Museum of Modern Art and determined it to be authentic. Katie Campbell, Wendy Williams and Deborah Wye of MoMA’s catalogue raisonné project, Louise Bourgeois: The Complete Books and Prints, confirmed that Bourgeois created the composition. The first printed raisonné of Bourgeois’s graphic work lists the print as known only through her studio notes with the title Babette, now Escalier de63; until now, there were no known impressions.
We unearthed another image when the sheet was removed from its mat, revealing an entirely different lithograph on the verso. We have not determined the printmaker behind this landscape. The image was first assumed to be a discarded work by Barnet, the printer, but this hypothesis was dismissed by experts. More likely than not, it is a discarded work by another Art Students League artist for whom Barnet printed.
Escalier de 63 is an excellent image by Bourgeois, incorporating some of the most important themes in her oeuvre including family, motherhood and architecture. We are excited to see this print find a new home, where it can be appreciated for its scarcity and beauty.