(From Wikipedia, the free
Hans Bellmer (13 March
1902 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. He is also commonly thought of, in the art world, as a
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.
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. He continued
making work into the 1960s.