Emotionally and psychologically striking, ‘The Fragile’ (2007) masterfully captures the intimate and deeply personal themes that occupied Bourgeois throughout her illustrious career, including the often complex and vulnerable relationship between mother and child. ‘The Fragile’ consists of a suite of thirty-six mixed media compositions. The images, a mixture of digital and screen prints created with archival dyes on cream fabric, were used by Bourgeois as a creative springboard to paint or draw over in red or blue dye. Through her innovative process, Bourgeois created a masterwork that is truly unique; it is simultaneously primeval and structured, simple and emotive. Variants of this work are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Ludwig Museum, Cologne.
Bourgeois’s print and fabric works, such as ‘The Fragile’, often reflect on her childhood and familial relationships. In ‘The Fragile’, each composition consists of a single abstract and unassuming figure created in delicate lines of red or blue which meditate on central themes from the artist’s practice: the psychological strains of being both a mother and a child. There is a certain simplicity inherent to Bourgeois’s careful, single-colored line and illustrative style, which is imbued with a sense of tension as well as fragility. These figures are striking, startling, and varied in their physicality: one female figure may consist simply of an anguished face and pendulous breasts, while next to her lies a frail and spindly spider, legs splayed in all directions and intense rage painted across its face. Many of the artist’s memories center around her family’s tapestry repair workshop, where Bourgeois grew up surrounded by women sewing, embroidering and repairing fabrics. As she recalled: ‘I became an artist, whether I wanted to or not, when my parents, who repaired Aubusson tapestries, needed someone to draw on canvas for the weavers’.  Often, Bourgeois utilized the spider as an allusion to her own mother, who not only ran the family business but was also a weaver and restorer of antique tapestries in her own right. This signature motif is widespread throughout her practice and is the subject of monumental Spider works such as ‘Maman (1994)’. However, in this sequential suite, ‘the spider differs from the strong and imposing figure found in Bourgeois’s sculpture. It is now disintegrating and feeble – manifesting the confusion and ambivalence that the artist associates with mothering and also being a recipient of care. Ultimately, for Bourgeois the dynamics of providing care for another [was] fraught with overarching feelings of responsibility, vulnerability, and anxiety, as much when she was a child as it is for a woman in her mid-90s.’ 
Created in 2007, ‘The Fragile’ not only revisited old psychological ground for the artist, but it also drove her work, and printmaking itself, into breath-taking new territory. At this time, Bourgeois entered a lively and highly experimental phase of printmaking, undertaking the execution of intricate, multifaceted works such as ‘The Fragile’. Printmaking bookended Bourgeois’s artistic practice, constituting a cyclical return to the work of her youth. In both instances, Bourgeois
was confined to the home: at first, as a mother of three young boys and at last in old age, when she worked from home. It was also at this time that Bourgeois created her own publishing imprint, Lison Editions, a reference to her childhood nickname. With Lison Editions, Bourgeois published three pivotal projects between 2006 and 2007, of which the ‘The Fragile’ is most monumental.
Thus, ‘The Fragile’ is a unique masterpiece that not only provides a reflection on the breadth of Bourgeois’s working practice – in particular, her everchanging innovation and contribution to the artistic process – but also sheds light on the subjects and narratives that underpinned her work throughout her career: familial relationships, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the unconscious. These late works provided Bourgeois with the opportunity to retrospectively replay, reprise and replicate the psychological distress and anxieties that overwhelmed her youth and preoccupied her as an adult. In the last years of her life, she perhaps approached a coming-to-terms with these themes in her works, of which ‘The Fragile’ is exemplary.
[1.] Louise Bourgeois, Marie-Louise Bernadac, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, London 1998, p. 126.
[2.] Louise Bourgeois Studio Notes in Deborah Wye and Carol Smith, ‘Louise Bourgeois. The Complete Prints & Books’, The Museum of Modern Art, cat. no. 17-52 (online cat. rais.), https://www.moma.org/s/lb/collection_lb/object/object_objid-129798.html.