Hans Bellmer

(March 13, 1902; Germany - February 23, 1975; France)

German artist, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. Surrealist photographer.

  • Nationality: German
  • Art Movement: Dada, Surrealism
  • Field: painting, sculpture, installation, photography
  • Influences on Hans Bellmer: George Grosz, Oskar Kokoschka, Man Ray, Hannah Höch, Marquis de Sade
  • Influenced by Hans Bellmer: Cindy Sherman, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Paul Wunderlich
  • Friends: André Breton, Unica Zurn, George Batailles, Max Ernst

   

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.

 

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.

 


Art works

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Drawings

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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.

 


Quotes

 

  • "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."
     
  • "If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal."
     
  • "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."
     
  • "I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl's body like a sort of plastic anagram."
     
  • "Do pretty things while simultaneously scattering the salt of deformation with a hint of vengeance."
     
  • "One must not stop short of the interior, of stripping away coy girlish thoughts so that their foundations become visible?"
     
  • "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."
     
  • "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."
     
  • "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."
     
  • "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?"

Biography

 

Bellmer was born in the city of Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire (now Katowice, Poland). Up until 1926, he worked as a draftsman for his own advertising company.
Bellmer is most famous for the creation of a series of dolls as well as photographs of them. He was influenced in his choice of art form in part 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. Hans Bellmer takes credit for provoking a physical crisis in his father and brings his own artistic creativity into association with childhood insubordination and resentment toward a severe and humorless paternal authority. Perhaps this is one reason for the nearly universal, unquestioning acceptance in the literature of Bellmer's promotion of his art as a struggle against his father, the police, and ultimately, fascism and the state. Events of his personal life also including meeting a beautiful teenage cousin in 1932 (and perhaps other unattainable beauties), 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 dolls. In his works, Bellmer explicitly sexualized the doll as a young girl. The dolls incorporated the principle of "ball joint", which was inspired by a pair of sixteenth-century articulated wooden dolls in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum Jonathan Hirschfeld has claimed (without further argumentation) that Bellmer 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 (according to this view) were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany.

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 produced the first doll in Berlin in 1933. Long since lost, the assemblage can nevertheless be correctly described thanks to approximately two dozen photographs Bellmer took at the time of its construction. Standing about fifty-six inches tall, the doll consisted of a modeled torso made of flax fiber, glue, and plaster; a mask-like head of the same material with glass eyes and a long, unkempt wig; and a pair of legs made from broomsticks or dowel rods. One of these legs terminated in a wooden, club-like foot; the other was encased in a more naturalistic plaster shell, jointed at the knee and ankle. As the project progressed, Bellmer made a second set of hollow plaster legs, with wooden ball joints for the doll's hips and knees. There were no arms to the first sculpture, but Bellmer did fashion or find a single wooden hand, which appears among the assortment of doll parts the artist documented in an untitled photograph of 1934, as well as in several photographs of later work.

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, as 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, where Bellmer's work was welcomed by the Surrealists around André Breton.

He aided the French Resistance during the war by making fake passports. He was imprisoned in the Camp des Milles prison at Aix-en-Provence, a brickworks camp for German nationals, from September 1939 until the end of the Phoney War in May 1940.

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 working into the 1960s. Of his own work, Bellmer said, "What is at stake here is 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 … As if the illogical was relaxation, as if laughter was permitted while thinking, as if error was a way and chance, a proof of eternity."

Bellmer died 24 February 1975 of bladder cancer. He was buried beside Zürn at Père Lachaise Cemetery with a tomb marked "Bellmer – Zürn".

 



Hans Bellmer and Unica Zurn



Used sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Bellmer
https://www.theartstory.org/artist/bellmer-hans/life-and-legacy/#nav