Hans Bellmer

Hans Bellmer

Hans Bellmer (13 March1902 Katowice, Silesia, – 23 February 1975 Paris, France) was an artist best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. Historians of art and photography also consider him a Surrealist photographer.


Since 1926 he had been working as a draftsman for his own advertising company. 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 new 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. Bellmer was influenced in his choice of art form by reading the published letters of Oskar Kokoschka ("Der Fetisch", 1925).

Bellmer's doll project is also said to have been catalysed by a series of events in his personal life, including meeting a beautiful teenage cousin in 1932 - and perhaps other unattainable beauties; and attending a performance of Jacques Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann (in which a man falls tragically in love with an automaton); and receiving a box of his old toys. After these events he began to actually construct his first doll. In his works, Bellmer explicitly sexualized the doll as a young girl. On the other hand, the doll incorporated the principle of "ball joint" , which was inspired by a pair of sixteenth-century articulated wooden dolls in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum [Sue Taylor. " [http://www.artic.edu/reynolds/essays/taylor.php Hans Bellmer in The Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body] ". (The Art Institute of Chicago).] .He visited Paris in 1935 and made contacts there such as Paul Éluard, but returned to Berlin because his wife Margarete was dying of tuberculosis.

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. Yet Bellmer's work was eventually declared "degenerate" by the Nazi Party, and he was forced to flee Germany to France in 1938.

His work was welcomed in the Parisian art culture of the time, especially the Surrealists under André Breton, because of the references to female beauty and the sexualization of the youthful form. His photographs were published in the Surrealist journal "Minotaure".

He aided the resistance during the war, making fake passports; and was imprisoned in the Camp des Milles prison at Aix-en-Provence for most of World War II.

After the war, Bellmer lived the rest of his life in Paris. Bellmer gave up doll making, and spent the following decades creating erotic drawings, etchings, sexually explicit photographs, paintings and prints of pubescent girls. In 1954 he met Unica Zürn, who became his companion until her suicide in 1970. He continued making work into the 1960s.

Reactions to Bellmer's works

On 19th Sept 2006, London's influential Whitechapel Art Gallery withdrew several works from a major 150-work Bellmer retrospective exhibition, due to fears of offending [http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/articlenews.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2006-10-06T172324Z_01_L06909511_RTRUKOC_0_UK-ARTS-MUSLIMS.xml] London's Islamic community.

References to Bellmer's work

*In Silent Hill 2 one of the monsters called Mannequins have two sets of hips and legs, joined at the waist, one reversed and upside down as to mimic breasts and arms. These Mannequins are also used in a similar symbolic fashion, representing suppressed sexual urges, and the destruction of innocence.
*The female robots in the Japanese film are based on Bellmer's design. In one scene, his name is shown in an open book. There was even a doll created for the movie modeled in the same general style. His book "The Doll" appears briefly in the movie "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" as a plot device.
*Japanese manga artist Mitsukazu Mihara has acknowledged influence by Bellmer in her manga Doll.
* "Guys 'n' Dolls: Art, Science, Fashion & Relationships"." [http://www.patricold.com/dollwerks/guysndolls.html] A major exhibition held during the Brighton Festival in 2005 of artists who have worked with the doll, with exhibits from Hans Bellmer, Oskar Kokoschka, Man Ray, Paula Rego, Patric Old, and more.
*The famous 1966 "Butcher Sleeve" photograph of The Beatles by Robert Whitaker was strongly influenced by Bellmer's work. [cite book | last = McKinney | first = Devin | title = Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History | publisher = Harvard University Press | year = 2003 | isbn = 067401202X] The "Butcher" image, depicting The Beatles draped with slabs of meat and dismembered doll parts became famous when it was used as the front cover photo for the Capitol Records U.S.A. Beatles compilation album "Yesterday and Today" in 1966. The album was briefly released with the Whitaker photo, but almost all copies of the original release were hastily withdrawn after a storm of complaints from retailers. Original copies of the "Butcher Sleeve" version of the LP have since become among the most valuable LPs ever released.
*The Brooklyn based punk-goth trio Bellmer Dolls derived their name from Bellmer's famed war era work
*The photography and artwork on Naked City's 1993 album "Absinthe" is also influenced by Bellmer's work.
*Bellmer's work is featured on the Tzadik Records recording of John Zorn's String Quartets
*UK street artist Insa's "Graffiti Fetish project" [http://www.woostercollective.com/2005/04/london_may_12_insas_graffiti_f.html] is heavily influenced by Bellmer's erotic drawings such as Le Bas Reyes.


Further reading

* "Hans Bellmer: Anatomie du Désir" (2006, [Éditions Gallimard / Centre Pompidou] ).
* Sue Taylor. "Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety" (2002, MIT Press).
* Pierre Dourthe. "Hans Bellmer: Le Principe de Perversion". (1999, France).
* Therese Lichtenstein, "Behind Closed Doors: The Art of Hans Bellmer," University of California Press, 2001.
* "The Doll", Hans Bellmer, Atlas Press, London, 2006, trans. Malcolm Green (first complete translation of Bellmer's suite of essays, poems and photos from the final German version)
* Robert C. Morgan. "Hans Bellmer:The Infestation of Eros", in A Hans Bellmer Miscellany, Anders Malmburg, Malmo and Timothy Baum, New York, 1993

External links

* [http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ArtistWorks?cgroupid=999999961&artistid=736&page=1 Tate Collection Page]
* [http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A452&page_number=1&template_id=6&sort_order=1 MoMA Collection Page]
* [http://www.artic.edu/reynolds/essays/taylor.php "Hans Bellmer in The Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body"] by Sue Taylor.
* [http://www.whitechapel.org/content.php?page_id=2672 Hans Bellmer] 20 September - 23 November 2006 / The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

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