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Artists Hans Bellmer
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

Quotes

"If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal."
Hans Bellmer
"It was worth all my obsessive efforts when, amid the smell of glue and wet plaster, the essence of all that is impressive would take shape and become a real object to be possessed."
Hans Bellmer
"I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl's body like a sort of plastic anagram."
Hans Bellmer
"Do pretty things while simultaneously scattering the salt of deformation with a hint of vengeance."
Hans Bellmer
"One must not stop short of the interior, of stripping away coy girlish thoughts so that their foundations become visible?"
Hans Bellmer
"A man in love with a woman and himself ... is in a peculiar hermaphroditic interconnection between the male and female principles in which the female predominates."
Hans Bellmer
"A totally new unity of form, meaning and feeling: language-images that cannot simply be thought up or written up ... They constitute new, multifaceted objects, resembling polyplanes made of mirrors."
Hans Bellmer
"I am glad to be considered part of the surrealist movement although I have less concern than some surrealists with the unconscious because my works are always carefully thought out and controlled."
Hans Bellmer
"And didn't the doll, which lived solely through the thoughts projected onto it, and which despite its unlimited pliancy could be maddeningly stand-offish, didn't the very creation of its dollishness contain the desire and intensity sought in it by the imagination?"
Hans Bellmer
"An orgy of fantasies, projections, substitutions, displacements, even hallucinations."
Alain Jouffroy

"The body resembles a sentence that seems to invite us to dismantle it into its component letters, so that its true meanings may be revealed ever anew through an endless stream of anagrams."

Hans Bellmer Signature

Synopsis

Hans Bellmer's art, often in the form of dolls he called language images, served as a form of personal therapy, in which he objectified abusive relationships, explored his fantasies, and projected the essence of his desire for women and objects. He lived through the repression of artists in Nazi Germany, which became another trauma informing his art. After the war, he became well known for his explicit and sometimes pornographic illustrations. He created images that reflected what he felt was a disturbing, and disturbed world. His work has been hailed by some as representing the limits of human sexuality, while others have found his work to simply objectify the female body as a captive of the male sexual gaze.

Key Ideas

Bellmer believed art could stimulate desire in the viewer, and he played with his objects to explore how an artificial figure of a girl could create authentic passion, desire, or fantasy.
Putting Breton and Tzara's ideas into practice, Bellmer posed his dolls with various parts missing, or in odd combinations, or as seemingly random juxtapositions in order to shock the viewer into making new connections between things, and to reveal how love obsessively alters the object of one's desire.
Bellmer created objects out of, and to present, psychoanalytic concepts: the fetish, desire, drive, ambivalence, the gaze, and sadism. By exploring these, art became a stand in for analysis, as trauma, desire and obsession could be acted out on the object. He used his dolls as an attempt to understand life and death by investigating erotic limits, unconscious fears, and desires.

Biography

Hans Bellmer Photo

Childhood and Education

Bellmer spent his adult life working through childhood trauma. He and his brother lived in fear of their stern father, who showed the boys little affection. He believed he was denied a normal childhood, as natural childish play was forbidden under his father's "cold shadow." Later in life, driven by an obsessive hatred of his father, he wasted no opportunity in interviews and poems such as Der Vater (The Father, 1936) to reiterate the evil spell his father had cast over his life, once noting his "father issues" would have made him a perfect case study for Sigmund Freud. Bellmer saw his behaviour as a response to his father, and categorized it as "rebellion, defence, attack". His early interest in cross-dressing reflected a curiosity about being a woman, an early sexual interest in girls, and an opportunity to lash out at his father. Biographer Sue Taylor reports that he deliberately sent his father into a seizure by powdering his face and wearing lipstick.

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Hans Bellmer Biography Continues

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

More Hans Bellmer Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Hans Bellmer
Interactive chart with Hans Bellmer's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Marquis de SadeMarquis de Sade
George GroszGeorge Grosz
Oskar KokoschkaOskar Kokoschka
Man RayMan Ray
Hannah HöchHannah Höch

Personal Contacts

André BretonAndré Breton
Unica ZurnUnica Zurn
George BataillesGeorge Batailles

Movements

DadaDada
SurrealismSurrealism

Influences on Artist
Hans Bellmer
Hans Bellmer
Years Worked: 1933 - 1975
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Cindy ShermanCindy Sherman
Jake and Dinos ChapmanJake and Dinos Chapman
Paul WunderlichPaul Wunderlich

Personal Contacts

Max ErnstMax Ernst

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
Contemporary ArtContemporary Art

Useful Resources on Hans Bellmer

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Death, Desire and the Doll, the Life and Art of Hans Bellmer Recomended resource

By Peter Webb and Robert Short

Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety

By Sue Taylor

Death, Desire and the Doll: The Life and Art of Hans Bellmer Recomended resource

By Peter Webb

Behind Closed Doors: The Art of Hans Bellmer

By Therese Lichtenstein

More Interesting Books about Hans Bellmer
Hans Bellmer Recomended resource

Art Institute of Chicago

Hans Bellmer: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body Recomended resource

By Sue Taylor
Art Institute of Chicago
Retrieved 19 January 2016

Guys and Dolls - "Silent Partners" Exhibition, Fitzwilliam Museum

By Steven Connor
Cambridge
December, 2014

Alma Mahler: The Mannequin of Oskar Kokoschka

(With interviews)
Retrieved 19 January, 2016

The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

By Charles Baudelaire
Essay on Toys

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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