From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Hans Bellmer (March 13, 1902 - February 23, 1975) was a German 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.
Life and work
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 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 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. Being known among the avant-garde did not, however, prevent him from being 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 long-time model. He continued making work into the 1960s.
The doll from Bellmer's 1934 work pioneered in form and meaning of similar dolls.
Bellmer's doll developed from a series of three events in his personal life: meeting a beautiful teenage cousin in 1932; 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 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.
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" London's radical Islamic groups. This allegation first appeared in Le Monde, the French newspaper, and has since been disseminated across the internet and much discussed on Surrealist chat forums.
References to Bellmer's work
- The female robots in the Japanese film Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 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.
- "Guys 'n' Dolls: Art, Science, Fashion & Relationships".  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 Belmer's work. 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 photography and artwork on Naked City's 1993 album Absinthe is also influenced by Bellmer's work.
- Die Puppe, 1934.
- La Poupée, 1936. (Translated to French by Robert Valançay)
- Trois Tableaux, Sept Dessins, Un Texte, 1944.
- Les Jeux de la Poupée, 1944. (Text by Bellmer with Poems by Paul Eluard)
- "Post-scriptum," from Hexentexte by Unica Zürn, 1954.
- L'Anatomie de l'Image, 1957.
- "La Pére" in Le Surréalisme Même, No. 4, Spring 1958. (Translated to French by Robert Valançay in 1936)
- "Strip-tease" in Le Surréalisme Même, No. 4, Spring 1958.
- Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, 1959.
- Die Puppe: Die Puppe, Die Spiele der Puppe, und Die Anatomie des Bildes, 1962. (Text by Bellmer with Poems by Eluard)
- Oracles et Spectacles, 1965.
- Mode d'Emploi, 1967.
- "88, Impasse de l'Espérance," 1975. (Originally written in 1960 for an uncompleted book by Gisèle Prassinos entitled L'Homme qui a Perdu son Squelette)
- 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
- Hans Bellmer in The Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body by Sue Taylor.