Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Life-Size Dolls, Ropes and Erotic Photography: Scandalous World of Hans Bellmer

Hans Bellmer The Doll, c. 1934, © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Bodies And Erotic Art

Life-Size Dolls, Ropes and Erotic Photography: Scandalous World of Hans Bellmer

“I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me”, said Terence, Roman playwright sometime in the 2nd century BC. I think that art and what inspired what you will see below, is exactly this: human imperfections, human needs, human dreams, human psyche… It might scandalize some, but the world in the eyes of Hans Bellmer is a scandalous one anyway.

From Mines to Paris

Hans Bellmer, Plate from La Poupée, 1936, MoMa, scandalous world of hans bellmer

Hans Bellmer, Plate from La Poupée, 1936, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Born in 1902 in German Kattowitz (today’s Katowice, Poland), at the age of 20 he held his first exhibition. Having completed highschool, he worked in a mine but under the influence of his father he moved to Berlin to study at the Technische Hochschule which brought him to meet Otto Dix and Georg Grosz. In 1924 he resigned from university to work full-time as a draughtsman and illustrator. Ten years later, he officially withheld from any public activity in an act of protest against Nazi overtake of Germany. In the following years he returned often to his parents’ summer house in Bad Carlsruhe, where he continued working on his projects of life-size dolls began in 1933, photographing them in the garden and in the house interior. In 1934, he published anonymously a book of ten photographs documenting the stages of the doll’s construction called Die Puppe (The Doll) (reprinted in French, as La Poupée, in 1936), while Paul Éluard printed them in the December 1934 issue of the Surrealist journal Minotaure, annotating them with his poems.

Sexual Perversions and Passports

Hans Bellmer, The Doll, c.1936, Tate, scandalous world of hans bellmer

Hans Bellmer, The Doll, c.1936, Tate, London

His dolls clearly opposed the Nazi cult of perfect body, as they were skewed, dismembered and ugly. Bellmer made his first doll inspired by beauty of his young cousin Ursula, but he was also under the strong impact of Jacques Offenbach’s fantasy opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann, 1880), in which the hero, in love with an uncannily lifelike automaton, ends up committing suicide. Once called a degenerate artist in 1937, Bellmer didn’t hesitate to move to France, especially that his first wife Margarete died of TB in the same period. In Paris he was embraced by the Surrealists, especially André Breton. During WW2 Bellmer supported the French by producing fake passports and he was subsequently imprisoned in the Camp des Milles prison for German nationals at Aix-en-Provence, where he did brickwork until May 1940. In 1942 he married again (had two daughters) and in 1944 he illustrated a novella Story of the Eye by G. Bataille, which describes sexual perversions of two teenage lovers. After the war, Bellmer stopped making dolls and moved onto photography and painting which both explored themes of sexuality, fetishism, and dreams.

The World Is Scandalous

Hans Bellmer, The Doll, c.1933, National Galleries Scotland, scandalous world of hans bellmer

Hans Bellmer, The Doll, c.1933, National Galleries Scotland


In an interview with Peter Webb, he explained: “I was aware of what I called physical unconsciousness, the body’s underlying awareness of itself. I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl’s body like a sort of plastic anagram. I remember describing it thus: the body is like a sequence that invites us to rearrange it, so that its real meaning comes clear through the series of endless anagrams. I want to reveal what is usually kept hidden – it is no game – I tried to open peoples eyes to new realities: it is as true of the doll photographs as it is of Petit Traite de la Morale. The anagram is the key to my work. This allies me to the Surrealists and I am glad to be considered part of that movement, although I have less concern than some Surrealists with the subconscious, because my works are carefully thought out and controlled. If my work is found to scandalise, that is because for me the world is scandalous.”

Sado-Maso in a Lens

 Hans Bellmer, Unica Tied Up, 1958. Source: https://www.dollwork.org/2014/01/28/unica-zurn-here-is-the-doll/, scandalous world of hans bellmer

Hans Bellmer, Unica Tied Up, 1958. Source: https://www.dollwork.org/2014/01/28/unica-zurn-here-is-the-doll/

In 1953 he met artist and writer Unica Zürn with whom he began to collaborate (and have a romance). Their most famous work is the photographic series Unica Tied Up, in which close-up photographs of female body bound by a tight rope is an artistic exploration of sadomasochistic practices. They were united in life and work until the year of her suicide, 1970.

Learn more:

  


Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

Comments

More in Bodies And Erotic Art

  • Chateau Noir by Paul Cezanne Chateau Noir by Paul Cezanne

    Painting of the Week

    Painting of the Week: Chateau Noir by Paul Cézanne

    By

    Today is Paul Cézanne’s birthday (he was born on January 19, 1839), so this Painting of the Week is dedicated to him. It is his landscape Chateau Noir, 1900/1904, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Chateau Noir is one of several paintings Cézanne...

  • 20th century

    Picasso Damaged at Tate Modern

    By

    On the 28th of December 2019, a man from the public marred the Picasso painting, Bust of a Woman. The painting is on a long-term loan from a private collector and it has since been removed from public view for restoration. What is this painting about?...

  • Yves Klein, Anthropometry of the Blue Period (ANT 82), 1960. Artwork © Yves Klein, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, 2017 Yves Klein, Anthropometry of the Blue Period (ANT 82), 1960. Artwork © Yves Klein, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, 2017

    20th century

    January Blues. Blue in Art

    By

    The January Blues, a well-known mood; festivities have come to an end and the winter is starting to feel gloomy. Therefore, to alleviate the melancholy, here is a trio of famous Blues from 20th-century art history. The Blue Nudes by Matisse These lithographs are “cut-outs” by the...

  • 20th century

    Afro-American Artists Arm in Arm: Charles White and Kerry J. Marshall

    By

    Last month the auction house Sotheby’s sold Kerry James Marshall’s painting Vignette 19 for $16 million. That’s a lot of money for a work by a living artist. But last year the same artist did even better. In May 2018, hip-hop producer and rapper P. Diddy bought...

  • 20th century

    Welcoming the Twenties with Tamara de Lempicka

    By

    Today I am taking you to a New Year’s Eve party. This year, like every year, we hope that the year coming will be better. But hearing that the twenties are coming somehow the picture of the 1920s comes to our imagination, with glamorous parties, jazz...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy