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Hans Bellmer Photo

Hans Bellmer

German Artist, Sculptor and Photographer

Movements and Styles: Dada, Surrealism, Modern Photography

Born: March 13, 1902 - Katowice, German Empire (now Poland)

Died: February 24, 1975 - Paris, France

Hans Bellmer Timeline

Important Art by Hans Bellmer

The below artworks are the most important by Hans Bellmer - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Die Puppe (The Doll) (1934)
Artwork Images

Die Puppe (The Doll) (1934)

Artwork description & Analysis: The inspiration for Bellmer's first doll was allegedly his unfulfilled sexual desire for his underage cousin Ursula Naguschewski who was then living with him and his wife. He created the doll from wood, glue, plaster and straw in his studio - obsessively driven to create what he called a "real object to be possessed." Once finished, as important as the doll itself were the photographs he took - posing it various settings and accessories. In this photograph a breast, part of the stomach, and the buttocks are exposed, while the angle of the head, gazing at the viewer, makes the face uncharacteristically real. In many of his doll photographs her face is a blank mask onto which the viewer can project whatever they feel, but here she has character.

Bellmer's interest in girlish things is made more explicit in an unrealized element of the work - he had originally intended to project a film through the doll's navel. His adult evocation of child sexuality created a furore when he reflected in Memories of the Doll Theme, of seeing "young girls" whose "minxes' legs" and "pink pleats" frolicked around him. The Surrealists believed in resurrecting childhood as a time when viewers were closest to real life, but Bellmer resurrected his childhood darkness, inviting allegations of deviancy and pedophilia still levelled against him today.

Gelatin silver print - Museo Reina Sofia, Spain

Jeux de la Poupée (Games of the Doll) (1935)
Artwork Images

Jeux de la Poupée (Games of the Doll) (1935)

Artwork description & Analysis: After Bellmer shot to fame via the Surrealist infatuation with his doll, he created this series of photographs, posing this new doll in over a hundred scenarios. The title 'games' seems to be implying that the doll is a willing partner but from what the viewer sees, it would appear not. The two torsos, severed and stuck together next to a tree, are utterly defenceless and powerless. The one enjoying the games is the puppet-master, the shadowy voyeur in a long dark coat and boots, hiding behind a tree. Again, disturbing references to childhood are raised; the body could be child or woman, but the white socks and shoes suggest a youth, rather than an adult. Bellmer chose to carefully hand-tint each photograph, and his choice of the pink and yellow aniline dyes was a nod to the erotic postcards of the time. However, his choice of red for the body suggests violation, while the yellow tinted forest suggests a feeling of sickness. The overall feeling is one of a sick fairy tale, where the woods hold the fears of violation, threat, and observation.

Print Book - 1944 Edition

The Story of the Eye (1947)
Artwork Images

The Story of the Eye (1947)

Artwork description & Analysis: The last three decades of Bellmer's life were mainly devoted to producing pornographic works dealing with sadist, erotic, sexual transgressions. As such he was a perfect choice as the illustrator for Bataille's graphically pornographic novel L'Histoire de l'oeil (The Story of the Eye, 1928). Bellmer's illustrations for this later edition took graphic sex to new heights. The story narrates an eyeball removed from a corpse and includes a notorious scene in which a teenage seductress asks: "milk is for the pussy, isn't it? Do you dare me to sit in the saucer?" Then I lay down at her feet without her stirring and for the first time, I saw her 'pink and dark flesh,' cooling in the white milk." Bellmer's twelve prints to illustrate the text pushed the boundaries of taste even further; in addition to the Surrealist trope of the vagina as an eye, he drew a young girl watching a phallus emerge from her vagina that was not even an image in Bataille's text (but undeniably captured the spirit of it). Bellmer would himself go on to refer to this vagina-as-eye motif in his drawing of his lover and artistic muse, Unica Zürn, titled Eye Vulva (1964).

Print Book - 1947 Edition

Cephalopod (c. 1939)
Artwork Images

Cephalopod (c. 1939)

Artwork description & Analysis: Bellmer's fixation with the octopus-liked Cephalopod, marked the start of a motif that would become a dominating theme for the rest of his life. He often depicts this head-footed creature as a head or two heads with legs, sometimes wearing stockings and heels. The Cephalopod motif developed his experiments with the doll in terms of body as manipulated metaphor. Set against a net the creature appears as a hybrid of parts, joining head to foot, with the torso as the pivot. It reflects Bellmer's obsessive desire to create a male/female hybrid - recalling the Surrealist idea that the ultimate surreality is love (the fusion of the self with another) and Shakespeare's reference to sex as "the beast with two backs." He revisited and obsessively worked on his Cephalopods after he began a love affair with the fellow Surrealist Unica Zürn. His desire to literally fuse and become one with Unica was repeatedly expressed in pornographic representations as well as his later self-portraits, which show his face inside her body, as if he is looking out at the world from inside her womb.

Gouache, brown ink, watercolor and pencil - Private Collection

Unica Bound (1958)
Artwork Images

Unica Bound (1958)

Artwork description & Analysis: This photograph appeared on the cover of Le Surrealisme, Meme in 1958. It was one of a long series of photographic collaborations between Bellmer and his lover Unica Zürn. It takes his earlier doll-work to new heights as instead of manipulating the doll, he is now arranging a real, female body for his pleasure. Here she is just a torso, trussed like a joint of meat ready for the oven. With no face, no arms, and no legs, she is dehumanized. Worse still, the string is cutting into her flesh making it bulge. The accompanying caption read "Tenir au Frais" ("Keep Cool.") As part of a collaboration involving S&M imagery such as binding, bondage and straps, Zürn was at pains to present it as consensual. However her words are disturbing: she recalled that he was infinitely gentle, but she also said that the person "who is sketched by him, or photographed...by his pencil [sic] participates with Bellmer in the abomination of herself. Impossible for me, to render him greater praise." Her ability to consent to be manipulated in this way is drawn into question as she suffered from schizophrenia, was frequently institutionalized, and later committed suicide.

Gelatin silver prints & gouache on masonite - Galerie Berinson, Berlin

A Sade (1961)
Artwork Images

A Sade (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: Bellmer shared the Surrealist fascination for the writings of the Marquis de Sade, the notorious French writer infamous for his obscene, pornographic stories. Sex, power, and subconscious desire were all core to Bellmer's work. These late drawings are technically brilliant and beautifully executed, but the content is nonetheless highly disturbing. His earlier experiments in reforming the body seem to reach their peak here, the body as such is just a series of apertures open for penetration. There is a complete depersonalisation of the orifices, and as such the work appears cold rather than erotic. Speaking of these works, Bellmer said: "I admire de Sade very much, especially his idea that violence towards the loved one can tell us more about the anatomy of desire than the simple act of love." For Bellmer, anatomy was desire, rather than the representation of it.

Print Book - 1961



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Hans Bellmer Photo

Related Art and Artists

Dada Puppen (Dada Dolls) (1916)
Artwork Images

Dada Puppen (Dada Dolls) (1916)

Artist: Hannah Höch

Artwork description & Analysis: Höch's darkly playful Dada Dolls are quite distinct from any work created by the others in the Berlin group of Dada artists with which she was affiliated early on. Given that the Berlin chapter of Dadaists only formed in 1917, these small-scale sculptural works suggest her awareness of Dada ideas more generally from its inception in 1916 in Zurich. She was likely influenced by writer Hugo Ball, the Zurich-based founder of Dada, given Höch's doll costumes' resemblance to the geometric forms of Ball's own costume worn in a seminal Dada performance at the Swiss nightclub Cabaret Voltaire.

Ball achieved notoriety for his declamation there of sound poetry, which he recited while wearing a mechanical looking outfit comprised of geometric shapes. The costume can be read as a commentary on contradictory feelings held towards developing technology. Technology was both revered and feared at this time, since it both aided social and economic progress but also threatened humanity with its destructive power. A common belief among Dadaists was that technology caused humans to become more machine-like themselves. One intent of the Dada movement was to use art as a satirical critique of such elements of culture that were both intimidating and absurd.

As Paul Trachtman has portrayed it, in a description that is apt for both Ball's and Höch's work: "When Dadaists did choose to represent the human form, it was often mutilated or made to look manufactured or mechanical. The multitude of severely crippled veterans and the growth of a prosthetics industry struck contemporaries as creating a race of half-mechanical men."

Fabric, yarn, thread, board, and beads - Berlinische Galerie. Landesmuseum fur Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur

Mannequin (1938)
Artwork Images

Mannequin (1938)

Movement: Surrealism

Artist: Man Ray

Artwork description & Analysis: Mannequin depicts André Masson's mannequin at the Exposition International du Surrealisme, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, in Paris 1938. Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Maurice Henry, and others also designed these weird mannequins to fill a room with uncanny female forms that looked both monstrous and sexually alluring. Man Ray photographed them all as discreet characters, of which this is one example. He repeatedly photographed his assistant, artist Lee Miller, and many other women, both living and inanimate. Like Hans Bellmer, an artist peripherally associated with the group, Ray was obsessed with the female form as the perfect embodiment of male desire, and sought to capture it formally in fantastical ways. Man Ray also pioneered many photographic techniques, including rayographs, named after himself, that incorporate elements of chance and in which subjects appear to glow in dream-like silver auras.

Assemblage of wood, oil, metal, board on board, with artist's frame - National Gallery of Australia

Untitled, "Sex Pictures" Series (1983)
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Untitled, "Sex Pictures" Series (1983)

Artist: Cindy Sherman

Artwork description & Analysis: Intended by the artist to shock the unsuspecting viewer, the Sex Pictures series features anatomical dolls arranged in compromising positions. Set clearly apart from actual pornography, the photograph cruelly comments on the greater dehumanization of women in life, as well as in art since time immemorial. Her space is claustrophobic, the body little more than a tool of raw desire, while the accoutrements of "beauty," such as hairbrush, skimpy panties, and the like, are strewn haphazardly around her. Once again, Sherman extracts certain conventions from their usual contexts, where they are often obscured by a host of attendant desires, and baldly reframes them as objects of intense, analytical attention. The effect is something that neither a medical investigation nor a political speech could convey with such vivid precision. Sherman suddenly "makes strange" the everyday, or the familiar, in ways that suggest we often trod through our lives while sleepwalking.

Color photograph - The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

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