Progression of Art
Die Puppe (The Doll)
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)
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
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
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
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
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