Hans Bellmer

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jun 7, 2024

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Hans Bellmer, born March 13, 1902 in Kattowitz (German Silesia) and died February 24, 1975 in Paris 20th, is a Franco-German painter, photographer, engraver, drawer and sculptor.

He is one of the major artists of surrealism. All his work being impregnated with a lively eroticism.

German period (1902-1937)

To escape a tyrannical father and a dominating but loving mother, Hans Bellmer and his younger brother Fritz take refuge in a secret garden of toys and memories.

After finishing high school, Hans Bellmer worked in a steel mill and then in a coal mine. In 1923, he was sent to the Technical University of Berlin. There he became interested in politics, the works of Karl Marx, and discussions with artists of the Dada movement. He met and socialized with John Heartfield, George Grosz and Rudolf Schlichter.

On the advice of George Grosz, he abandoned his engineering training in 1924 and began training as a typographer at Malik-Verlag. There he designed book covers and illustrations, for example, for The Railway Accident, or the Anti-Friend (1925) by Salomo Friedlaender (under the pseudonym Mynona).

In 1925-1926, he went to Paris, where he frequented the Dadaists and Surrealists. In 1928 he married Margarete Schnelle, who died of tuberculosis in 1938.

In Berlin (Karl-Horstrasse 8 a), he opened an advertising studio, which he had to abandon in 1933 for political reasons completely antagonistic to the new Nazi power.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Hans Bellmer decided not to do anything that would be useful to the state. In 1934, he created his most famous work, The Doll. Bellmer's work is described as "degenerate art" by the Nazis. It was partially published in France, in the form of texts and photographs, in the magazine Le Minotaure, under the title Poupée: variations sur le montage d'une mineure articulée, in December 1934, then in 1938 in the Cahiers d'art. The woman according to the artist would be like an anagram, of which it varies to the infinity the variations and metamorphoses, according to the engine of the desire.

French period (1938-1975)

He moved to Paris in 1938 and participated in the surrealist exhibitions in Paris.

At the beginning of the Second World War, he was arrested as a German national, and therefore suspected by the French authorities. He was imprisoned in the camp of Les Milles near Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône), with Max Ernst, Ferdinand Springer and Wols. Later, unable to go into exile in the United States, Hans Bellmer went underground.

Early on, Bellmer was attracted and fascinated by the work of the Marquis de Sade, whose "attempt to destroy the social bond could only please the one who had promised never to do anything that could be useful to the functioning of the state," comments Annie Le Brun. Thus he made several drawings in 1945 and 1946, which were the starting point for two major projects on Sade: À Sade and Petit traité de morale, published in 1968 by Éditions Georges Visat. Later, from 1967, he collaborated on these illustrations with the engraver Cécile Reims.

In 1946, he met Georges Bataille, through the intermediary of the publisher Alain Gheerbrant, who published the second version of Histoire de l'œil in July 1947, illustrated by Bellmer with six etchings and burin. With André Masson, Bellmer is undoubtedly the illustrator of Bataille the closest to the erotic universe and the thought of the writer. By deregulating the glance and the anatomy, Bellmer, "true anatomist of the desire", writes Vincent Teixeira, "master in formal accidents, plays with the morphology, the sexual powers of the image and the interchangeable differences of the masculine and the feminine, multiplies the erotic metamorphoses, operates "transformisms", creates aberrant chimeras."

After Bataille's death in 1962, the project to illustrate Madame Edwarda, begun in the late 1950s, was revived by Éditions Georges Visat, with twelve copperplates engraved with point and burin.

In 1949, he realized the second Doll, and published the photographs in a book entitled the Games of the doll, accompanied by prose poems by Paul Éluard. All these photographs are painted with aniline by his friend Christian d'Orgeix and himself.

In 1953, he met Unica Zürn (1916-1970), a German artist and writer, who worked with him on plastic anagrams, but suffered from severe depression and schizophrenia. They lived together in Paris in a room on rue Mouffetard, but their relationship was troubled by Unica's mental health problems, and she attempted suicide and was institutionalized several times.

In 1954, he illustrated a lithograph Histoire d'O by Pauline Réage, published by Jean-Jacques Pauvert.

In 1957, Bellmer published a book at Terrain Vague, Éric Losfeld's publishing house, in the form of a treatise, Petite anatomie de l'inconscient physique ou l'Anatomie de l'image, which intends to testify to his creative process. According to him, the analogical thought and the crystallization of the desires make rock the real in the dimension of all the possible ones. He summarizes this open and experimental logic of the metamorphosis, according to which he redistributes and recreates the human anatomy:

"The essential thing to remember about the monstrous dictionary of analogies-antagonisms, which is the dictionary of the image, is that such a detail, such a leg, is only perceptible, accessible to the memory and available, in short, is REAL, if desire does not fatally mistake it for a leg. The object identical to itself remains without reality.

In 1958, he was awarded the William and Noma Copley Foundation Prize. In 1959 and 1964, he participated in documenta II and III in Cassel.

In 1969, while Unica Zürn, increasingly ill, was once again committed to the White House, Hans Bellmer became hemiplegic following a stroke and remained profoundly mute for the rest of his life. The following year, on October 19, 1970, Unica Zürn leaves the clinic where she was interned and commits suicide by throwing herself out of the window of her apartment.

Hans Bellmer died on February 24, 1975, very isolated, of bladder cancer. He is buried in Paris at the Père-Lachaise cemetery (9th division), in the same grave as Unica Zürn.

Bellmer was influenced in his choice of art form by reading published letters by Oskar Kokoschka (Der Fetish, 1925). From the 1930s until his death, he dealt almost exclusively with erotic images of the female anatomy, often based on the body of a beaten woman: fetishism, sado-masochism, voyeurism...

Bellmer's work, often associated according to a psychoanalytical drift with the vocabulary of perversion, remains a poetic affirmation of surrealism in its most radical form. The relative proximity of the photographs of the Doll to the Freudian Unheimliche places this work on the border between eroticism and death, between the animate and the inanimate. The body of the doll, but also its drawings and engravings express dreamlike universes in which the conciliation of opposites is possible, in accordance with the Manifesto of Surrealism of Breton. Bellmer also illustrated the Marquis de Sade, engravings included in Petit traité de morale (1968), Histoire de l'œil and Madame Edwarda by Georges Bataille, Le Con d'Irène by Louis Aragon, Lautréamont, Pauline Réage, etc.

According to Annie Le Brun, Hans Bellmer "reveals to us the process by which desire becomes a tireless inventor of forms in order to be reborn from the anagrams of a body that it never ceases to decompose and recompose." Thus, the erotic and amorous secret unveiled by Bellmer consists in seeing and knowing that "a leg is only real if it is not fatally mistaken for a leg". Against the lies and the misery of the sexual realism, as of the industrial society, Bellmer, to "ends of passionate désoccultation", experiments the power of shaking of the analogical thought, according to which the field of the desire becomes at the same time means of knowledge: "When all that the man is not is added to the man, it is then that it seems to be itself. He seems to exist, with his most singularly individual data, and independently of himself, in the Universe."

In another text published on the occasion of the republication of the Small anatomy of the physical unconscious or the Anatomy of the image, in which she opposes the draughtsman of the erotic vertigo, the maquettist of the amorous perversity to the moralism and to the angelism of the neo-feminist ideology, Annie Le Brun writes that, as Sade wished "to say everything", Bellmer obeys the necessity of "to see everything", according to a radical revision of our concepts of identity, in search of the secrets of the image as of the love, "applying himself to detect under the image of the body the body of the image".

The Doll

The Doll is a sculpture of wood, paper mache glued and painted representing, in almost real size (1,40 m), a young girl with real dark hair cut in fringe on the forehead, decorated on the top of the head with a big stiff knot, only dressed with white socks and black varnish pumps. It is a large doll composed of many members that can be articulated to each other by balls, a large ball, the belly, on which can be articulated two more underbelly, four hips articulated to four thighs, these articulated to four legs, and a bust with several breasts, the head and neck are removable. Hans Bellmer plays with his Doll and multiplies the variations with the various elements of its body; sometimes, for example, amputated with the knees, the head, decapitated, posed behind the two balls of the hips representing young tree; or, another example, become a monster with four legs, two up, two down, articulated to the central ball of the belly, mobile and suggesting the dance and the provocation of the desire of others, photographed here in the woods, there on a parquet floor, in an attic, wallowing twisted on a mattress, two legs dressed with black pants of man; or half dismantled, amputated of a leg, thrown in a down, crumpled by its fall and its weight. The photos are polychrome, Bellmer colored them with changing shades on the same photo, sometimes pastel, flesh, pale pink, pink, mauve, light blue, but also bright colors, red, yellow, blue duck. The Doll is an "artificial creature with multiple anatomical potentialities", by which Bellmer intends to discover the "mechanics of the desire" and to unmask "the physical unconscious" which governs us; she is childish, but also victim of sadistic perversions; thus dismembered, violated, raped, she corresponds to the desire of the artist to see the woman reach "the level of its experimental vocation".


  1. Hans Bellmer
  2. Hans Bellmer
  3. « Hans Bellmer », in Encyclopédie Universalis.
  4. Annie Le Brun, « La profanation de l'Enfer », dans L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque. Éros au secret, catalogue d’exposition sous la direction de Marie-Françoise Quignard et Raymond-Josué Seckel, BNF, 2007, p. 128.
  5. ^ Webb, Peter, and Robert Short. Death, Desire and the Doll: The Life and Art of Hans Bellmer. Gardena: Solar Books, 2006, 19–21.
  6. ^ [https://web.archive.org/web/20180920083912/https://www.haaretz.com/1.5087189 Archived 2018-09-20 at the Wayback Machine It's a Doll's Life, Jonathan Hirschfeld, Haaretz
  7. Minotaure, Nr. 6, Winter, 1934-5, S. 30–1.
  8. Übersetzt von dem Surrealisten Robert Valençay bei Guy Lévis Mano, Paris 1936.
  9. Minotaure, Nr. 8, 1936, 10, 1937; Cahiers d’art, N. 11, 1936.
  10. Bilder aus der Ziegelfabrik von Les Milles, welt.de, abgerufen am 20. Oktober 2013
  11. Foto's tentoonstelling. Gearchiveerd op 25 juli 2023.

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