The project was a personal endeavor for Bourgeois, one that spanned from the late 1940s until the early 2000s. Featured here are examples of the text and nine impressions, as well as insight into the work itself.
Bourgeois moved to New York from her native France in 1938, after meeting and marrying American art historian Robert Goldwater – He Disappeared Into Complete Silence marks this period of transition in her life.
Many of the engravings reflect Bourgeois’ fascination with the ever-changing New York skyline. The towering skyscrapers and rapidly-evolving cityscape were eye-opening to Bourgeois and her visual thirst as a young, emerging artist having come from Paris in the late 1930s.
Bourgeois doubtlessly endeavored for He Disappeared Into Complete Silence to mark her entry into the New York art world with a bang. She aggressively marketed the book herself, sending copies to influential art and literary critics such as Clement Greenberg and Philip Rahv. She also left examples with prominent New York book dealers Georges Wittenborn and Harold E. Briggs.
Bourgeois produced two versions of a promotional postcard for the book and took out three ads in 1949 in the March, August and September issues of Partisan Review to support the project. Some of her early advertising efforts paid off, with Alfred Barr becoming an early supporter of her work and acquiring an example for The Museum of Modern Art’s collection in 1947, as well as a 1950 sculpture Sleeping Figure in 1951.
Nevertheless, He Disappeared Into Complete Silence was not a commercial success. The announced edition of the book was not completed in 1947, significantly less than half of the work was accounted for in the late 1940s and many of these copies had been given away by the artist.
This lack of success frustrated Bourgeois and, in the early 1980s, after she had become an internationally renowned artist, she began efforts to reissue the portfolio, hoping to complete the edition she had begun so many years earlier.
During this time she began assembling copies from vintage impressions of the engravings and text. When this became unfeasible, and since the original plates no longer existed, Bourgeois set about producing new plates through the photogravure process. Finally, she published a new edition, issued in 2005, in a total edition of 47, to benefit the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books at MoMA.
In their execution, the engravings in He Disappeared Into Complete Silence reveal a debt to the lessons Bourgeois learned at Atelier 17, New York, under the direction of the artist and master-printer Stanley W. Hayter. Their compositions recall other Surrealist prints, particularly the etchings of Joan Miró and Max Ernst, who worked at the print house at the time, as well as Hayter’s own engravings.
Museum of Modern Art on He Disappeared into Complete Silence
According to the Louise Bourgeois, The Complete Prints and Books, project at MoMA, “It is clear that He Disappeared into Complete Silence was an enormous effort for Bourgeois, preoccupying her throughout 1947. There are diary notes about visits to the Print Room of the Brooklyn Museum to study the construction of portfolios; she describes the important features of flaps, covers, and so on, also noting that, ‘The text should go along with the pictures.’ She later remembered that with all the organizational aspects of the project, and with the effort needed to finish a relatively large quantity of prints, her final decisions regarding the sequence of plates, and the pairings of images and particular texts, were made in great haste.”
The Artist on He Disappeared into Complete Silence
Bourgeois recollected on the theme of He Disappeared Into Complete Silence, for which she wrote all the poetry to accompany the engravings, as, “A drama of the self . . . It is about the fear of going overboard and hurting others. Controlling oneself is always the goal . . . so one will not project one’s own violence on others.”
She noted that, “The whole trend of this book is about the lowering of self-esteem. It is a descent . . . a descent into depression. But I believe in resurrection in the morning. This is a withdrawal, but it is temporary. You lose your self-esteem, but you pull yourself up again. This is about survival . . . about the will to survive.”