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Hans Bellmer (1902-1975)

Lifespan: 1902 - 1975

Geography: German art - French art

Related: erotic illustrations - erotomaniac - fetish art - degenerate art - modern art - perversion in modern art - surrealism

Related people: Georges Bataille - Unica Zürn

The work of Hans Bellmer found me via Georges Bataille. A Google gallery of his work can be found here. [Mar 2006]

Hans Bellmer, photocredit unidentified


Hans Bellmer (1902-23 February 1975) was an established painter and graphic designer, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s after the rise to power of the Nazi Party in 1933. He initiated his doll project to oppose the fascism of the Nazi Party by declaring that he would make no work that would support the German state. Represented by mutated forms and unconventional poses, his dolls were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany. His work was declared 'degenerate' and he fled Germany to France. His work was welcomed in the Parisian art culture of the time because of the references to female beauty and the sexualization of the youthful form.

Bellmer's 1934 book Die Puppe (The Doll), produced and published privately in Germany, contains ten black-and-white photographs of Bellmer's first doll arranged in a series of tableaux vivants.

Bellmer also created erotic drawings and etchings. He is most commonly thought of as a surrealist photographer. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Bellmer [Jan 2005]

Die Puppe (1934) - Hans Bellmer

Poupée, variations sur le montage d'une mineure articulée - Hans Bellmer
Minotaure 6 (Winter, 1934–35), pp. 30–31
image sourced here. [Aug 2005]

Hans Bellmer's 1934 anonymous book The Doll (Die Puppe), produced and published privately in Germany, contains 10 black-and-white photographs of Bellmer's first doll arranged in a series of "tableaux vivants" (living pictures). The book was not credited to him, he worked in isolation, and his photographs remained almost unknown in Germany. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Bellmer [Aug 2005]

He presented his essay "Memories of the Doll Theme" in Die Puppe (The Doll), a booklet printed in a very small edition at the artist's expense by his friend Thomas Eckstein in Karlsruhe, with ten photographs of the doll tipped in by hand, as in a family album. The photographs Bellmer selected for inclusion in this precious livre d'artiste were among those later published as "Variations on an Articulated Minor," beginning with the gaunt framework of the doll in its initial stages of construction and ending with a still-life arrangement of detached plaster legs surrounded by white undergarments, a rose, and a single high-heeled pump. The tiny size of the edition and of the object itself lends a secretive quality to Bellmer's project, which was possibly a function of necessity in Germany, where the Nazis had assumed power and were increasingly suspicious of modern artists. Not long after his Minotaure debut, Bellmer visited Paris, gaining an introduction to Breton; on his return to Berlin, he began to collaborate through the mail with the Surrealist writer Robert Valençay on an exacting French translation of "Memories of the Doll Theme." In 1936 a limited French edition of Die Puppe, La Poupée, was issued by Guy Lévis-Mano in Paris; a copy of this book is preserved in the Art Institute's Mary Reynolds Collection. --http://www.artic.edu/reynolds/essays/taylor.php [Aug 2005]

Hans Bellmer and Unica Zürn

Hans Bellmer seems to have fed on Unica Zürn's illness:

"One can see me as the type of man with antennae that can pick up a potential woman-victim ... It remains to be seen if I immediately, from the first time we met, "sensed" that Unica was a victim. If Unica seriously asked herself this question, which she may have done, she would, I think, reply YES!"

--Hans Bellmer in a letter to Dr Ferdière, a psychiatrist , in 1964.

Text sourced via Surrealism: Desire Unbound (2001) - Jennifer Mundy (editor), see entry on surrealism.

See also: victim - Hans Bellmer - Unica Zürn - 1964

Degenerate art

... "In the thirties, Bellmer fled Nazi Germany, where the Fascists were attacking "degenerate art," and as a result, this connoisseur of erotically broken adolescent girls can be regarded as something more than a sublime monster; he becomes an artist of conscience who resisted the Nazis' indecent demand for decency. He can also be viewed as a deft social critic. In the thirties, when Bellmer made most of his doll photographs, the Nazis were imposing a squeaky-clean stereotype of femininity upon the German population. Bellmer bravely insisted upon the difficult and messy passions that the Nazis suppressed. And, of course, he can now be celebrated as remarkably prescient. His art seems perfectly tailored for today's academic talk about "gender roles," "taboos," and "the female body." --Mark Stevens for newyorkmetro.com

Bellmer's bondage photographs

Susan Rubin Suleiman qualifies comparisons between Sherman's contemporary Sex Pictures and Hans Bellmer's 1930s photographs of dolls, both of which employ mannequins to disturbing effect. Suleiman brilliantly imagines an ambivalent "yes, but" dialogue between these oeuvres, establishing an active, critical stance for Sherman rather than merely a passive influence descended through patrilineal channels. Juxtaposing Bellmer's bondage photographs of his companion Unica Zurn with Woodman's pictures of her own body bound with ribbon, Suleiman reads the latter as an ironic commentary on the fetishism so endemic in surrealism as practiced by men. --http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0425/is_2_58/ai_55427209 [Sept 2004]

Camp de Milles [...]

In the south of France during the summer of 1939, Hans Bellmer is interned in the "camp des Milles", in the company of Ferdinand Springer. --http://perso.wanadoo.fr/d-d.natanson/artistes_milles.htm [Mar 2004]

Bellmer's women

And the women [Hans Bellmer] attracted were remarkable: twice married (once widowed, once divorced), he also formed relationships with Joyce Reeves, an English author of children's books and secretary to Roland Penrose; the Romanian dancer Lizica Codreano; the Bulgarian writer Nora Mitrani; and the German surrealist Unica Zurn. As much as I could, I tried to give voice to these women in my book, to take seriously what they had to say about Bellmer. And they do provide important insights. Both Zurn and Mitrani also served him as models. They put their own bodies in the service of his provocative projects; it's Zurn's naked torso we see tied up and bulging in a series of unsettling black-and-white photographs from 1958. --Sue Taylor, http://www.art.pdx.edu/faculty/facultyhome/taylor/taylor.htm [Mar 2004]


Hans Bellmer in The Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body by Sue Taylor. "...The Surrealist fascination with automata, especially the uncanny dread produced by their dubious animate/inanimate status, prepared the way for the enthusiastic reception in France of Bellmer's doll. His stated preoccupation with little girls as subjects for his art, moreover, coincided with the Surrealist idealization of the femme-enfant, a muse whose association with dual realms of alterity, femininity and childhood, inspired male artists in their self-styled revolt against the forces of the rational." --Sue Taylor http://www.artic.edu/reynolds/essays/taylor.php

Poupée, variations sur le montage d'une mineure articulée (1934) - Hans Bellmer

Poupée, variations sur le montage d'une mineure articulée - Hans Bellmer
Minotaure 6 (Winter, 1934–35), pp. 30–31
image sourced here. [Aug 2005]

Minotaure (1933–39) was a primarily Surrealist-oriented publication founded by Albert Skira in Paris.

In many ways, it was the successor to La Révolution Surréaliste.

Minotaure brought many little-known figures such as Hans Bellmer, Victor Brauner, Paul Delvaux, Alberto Giacometti, and Roberto Matta to the attention of the art world. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minotaure [Aug 2005]

see also: 1934 - André Breton

Le surréalisme, même 4 (1958) - André Breton

LE SURREALISME, MEME). Breton, Andre & Jean Schuster, Editors Paris: Librairie Jean-Jacques Prevert, 1958. Illustrated Wrappers. First Edition. Square 8vo. 64pp, profusely illustrated in b&w. Cover by Hans Bellmer. Text in French. This is the fourth (of five total published) issue of Andre Breton's latter-day surrealist periodical "Le Surrealisme, Meme". This includes contributions by Monique Watteau, Vincent Bonoure, Jose Pierre (on Heinrich Von Kleist), Hans Bellmer, Robert Benayoun, Lancelot Lengyel, Jean-Francois Revel, Theodor Spoerri (on Adolf Wolfli), Ado Kyrou, Roger Calliois, and Pierre Molinier. --,+meme+4%22&hl=en [Aug 2005]

The cover of this magazine has a picture of Unica Zürn's naked torso in bondage. [Sue Taylor (2000)]

The bondage photographs that resulted are of a different order. It is Zurn's naked torso or legs bound tightly with string, transforming her body into a series of folds and bulging mounds of flesh. In one image [the one on the cover of Le surréalisme, même 4 (1958)], she reclines on a plaid blanket seen from behind without head or limbs, reduced to a pale lump of trussed meat, with necrophiliac overtones and the caption, "Keep in a Cool Place." --http://www.nyartsmagazine.com/pages/nyam_document.php?nid=55&did=1420 [Aug 2005]

see also: André Breton - Unica Zürn - Georges Bataille

External links

  • http://thierry.zalic.free.fr/pages/online2/bellmer.htm

    The Anatomy of Anxiety (2000) - Sue Taylor

    The Anatomy of Anxiety (2000) - Sue Taylor [Amazon.com]
    The German-born Surrealist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975), best known for his life-size pubescent dolls, devoted an artistic lifetime to creating sexualized images of the female body--distorted, dismembered, or menaced in sinister scenarios. In this book Sue Taylor draws on psychoanalytic theory to suggest why Bellmer was so driven by erotomania as well as a desire for revenge, suffering, and the safety of the womb. Although he styled himself as the quintessential Oedipal son, an avant-garde artist in perpetual rebellion against a despised father, Taylor contends that his filial attitude was more complex than he could consciously allow. Tracing a repressed homoerotic attachment to his father, castration anxiety, and an unconscious sense of guilt, Taylor proposes that a feminine identification informs all the disquieting aspects of Bellmer's art.

    [Hans Bellmer did the illustrations of the second edition of Georges Bataille's 'Story of the Eye']

    Little Anatomy of the Physical Unconscious: Or, The Anatomy of the Image (1957) - Hans Bellmer

    Little Anatomy of the Physical Unconscious: Or, The Anatomy of the Image (1957) - Hans Bellmer [Amazon.com][FR] [DE] [UK]

    Book Description
    The drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures of Hans Bellmer (1902–1975) stand as some of the most important erotic artwork from the last century. An expert draftsman with a razor-sharp capacity for detail and an obsessive, unfettered imagination, Bellmer was able to powerfully render the imagery he saw in his mind’s eye.

    In the 1950s Hans Bellmer composed a small book in which he elucidated upon the psychosexual forces that provided the impetus for his artistic works. He described the project as "a kind of little anatomy of the (physical) unconscious with text and drawings. But it will also be a rather ‘dry’ work, by which I mean something tending to be exceedingly objective and avoiding, in the interests of clarity, whims of a verbal nature. It is the natural sequel to the experiments with the Doll, but should therefore encompass everything that Surrealism has brought to light. … But there is also a certain necessity in setting down this story, a necessity that is even quite enthralling."

    In 1957 the original French edition appeared of Bellmer’s Little Anatomy of the Physical Unconscious, or the Anatomy of the Image, with ten original illustrations by the artist. The book met with a positive reception from poets and literary figures such as André Breton and Jöe Bousquet, as well as a number of psychologists. Particularly impressed by the selection of poetic anagrams in the book, Man Ray telegrammed Bellmer the following anagram in response: "IMAGE = MAGIE" (Image = Magic). Although Bellmer may have striven to take an almost clinical "scientific" approach to his analysis of the physical unconscious, the work is nevertheless informed by a hyperdriven sensual awareness and a distinctly "magical" view of life.

    This is the first translation of Bellmer’s text to appear in English. After nearly half a century, a new audience of readers can experience his illumination of the "purely subjective" subconscious realm of our bodies which "finds nourishment in feverish, often psycho-pathological states, including that of sexual desire." --via Amazon.com

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