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Hans Bellmer Photo

Hans Bellmer

German Artist, Sculptor and Photographer

Born: March 13, 1902 - Katowice, German Empire (now Poland)
Died: February 24, 1975 - Paris, France
Movements and Styles:
Modern Photography
"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."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"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."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl's body like a sort of plastic anagram."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"Do pretty things while simultaneously scattering the salt of deformation with a hint of vengeance."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"One must not stop short of the interior, of stripping away coy girlish thoughts so that their foundations become visible?"
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"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."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"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."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"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."
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"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?"
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Hans Bellmer Signature
"An orgy of fantasies, projections, substitutions, displacements, even hallucinations."
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Alain Jouffroy

Summary of Hans Bellmer

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.


  • Bellmer believed art could stimulate desire in the viewer, and he played with his objects to explore how an artificial figure of a girl could create authentic passion, desire, or fantasy.
  • 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.
  • Bellmer created objects out of, and to present, psychoanalytic concepts: the fetish, desire, drive, ambivalence, the gaze, and sadism. By exploring these, art became a stand in for analysis, as trauma, desire and obsession could be acted out on the object. He used his dolls as an attempt to understand life and death by investigating erotic limits, unconscious fears, and desires.

Biography of Hans Bellmer

Hans Bellmer Photo

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.

Important Art by Hans Bellmer

Progression of Art

Die Puppe (The Doll)

The inspiration for Bellmer's first doll was allegedly his unfulfilled sexual desire for his underage cousin Ursula Naguschewski who was then living with him and his wife. He created the doll from wood, glue, plaster and straw in his studio - obsessively driven to create what he called a "real object to be possessed." Once finished, as important as the doll itself were the photographs he took - posing it various settings and accessories. In this photograph a breast, part of the stomach, and the buttocks are exposed, while the angle of the head, gazing at the viewer, makes the face uncharacteristically real. In many of his doll photographs her face is a blank mask onto which the viewer can project whatever they feel, but here she has character.

Bellmer's interest in girlish things is made more explicit in an unrealized element of the work - he had originally intended to project a film through the doll's navel. His adult evocation of child sexuality created a furore when he reflected in Memories of the Doll Theme, of seeing "young girls" whose "minxes' legs" and "pink pleats" frolicked around him. The Surrealists believed in resurrecting childhood as a time when viewers were closest to real life, but Bellmer resurrected his childhood darkness, inviting allegations of deviancy and pedophilia still levelled against him today.

Gelatin silver print - Museo Reina Sofia, Spain


Jeux de la Poupée (Games of the Doll)

After Bellmer shot to fame via the Surrealist infatuation with his doll, he created this series of photographs, posing this new doll in over a hundred scenarios. The title 'games' seems to be implying that the doll is a willing partner but from what the viewer sees, it would appear not. The two torsos, severed and stuck together next to a tree, are utterly defenceless and powerless. The one enjoying the games is the puppet-master, the shadowy voyeur in a long dark coat and boots, hiding behind a tree. Again, disturbing references to childhood are raised; the body could be child or woman, but the white socks and shoes suggest a youth, rather than an adult. Bellmer chose to carefully hand-tint each photograph, and his choice of the pink and yellow aniline dyes was a nod to the erotic postcards of the time. However, his choice of red for the body suggests violation, while the yellow tinted forest suggests a feeling of sickness. The overall feeling is one of a sick fairy tale, where the woods hold the fears of violation, threat, and observation.

Print Book - 1944 Edition


The Story of the Eye

The last three decades of Bellmer's life were mainly devoted to producing pornographic works dealing with sadist, erotic, sexual transgressions. As such he was a perfect choice as the illustrator for Bataille's graphically pornographic novel L'Histoire de l'oeil (The Story of the Eye, 1928). Bellmer's illustrations for this later edition took graphic sex to new heights. The story narrates an eyeball removed from a corpse and includes a notorious scene in which a teenage seductress asks: "milk is for the pussy, isn't it? Do you dare me to sit in the saucer?" Then I lay down at her feet without her stirring and for the first time, I saw her 'pink and dark flesh,' cooling in the white milk." Bellmer's twelve prints to illustrate the text pushed the boundaries of taste even further; in addition to the Surrealist trope of the vagina as an eye, he drew a young girl watching a phallus emerge from her vagina that was not even an image in Bataille's text (but undeniably captured the spirit of it). Bellmer would himself go on to refer to this vagina-as-eye motif in his drawing of his lover and artistic muse, Unica Zürn, titled Eye Vulva (1964).

Print Book - 1947 Edition

c. 1939


Bellmer's fixation with the octopus-liked Cephalopod, marked the start of a motif that would become a dominating theme for the rest of his life. He often depicts this head-footed creature as a head or two heads with legs, sometimes wearing stockings and heels. The Cephalopod motif developed his experiments with the doll in terms of body as manipulated metaphor. Set against a net the creature appears as a hybrid of parts, joining head to foot, with the torso as the pivot. It reflects Bellmer's obsessive desire to create a male/female hybrid - recalling the Surrealist idea that the ultimate surreality is love (the fusion of the self with another) and Shakespeare's reference to sex as "the beast with two backs." He revisited and obsessively worked on his Cephalopods after he began a love affair with the fellow Surrealist Unica Zürn. His desire to literally fuse and become one with Unica was repeatedly expressed in pornographic representations as well as his later self-portraits, which show his face inside her body, as if he is looking out at the world from inside her womb.

Gouache, brown ink, watercolor and pencil - Private Collection


Unica Bound

This photograph appeared on the cover of Le Surrealisme, Meme in 1958. It was one of a long series of photographic collaborations between Bellmer and his lover Unica Zürn. It takes his earlier doll-work to new heights as instead of manipulating the doll, he is now arranging a real, female body for his pleasure. Here she is just a torso, trussed like a joint of meat ready for the oven. With no face, no arms, and no legs, she is dehumanized. Worse still, the string is cutting into her flesh making it bulge. The accompanying caption read "Tenir au Frais" ("Keep Cool.") As part of a collaboration involving S&M imagery such as binding, bondage and straps, Zürn was at pains to present it as consensual. However her words are disturbing: she recalled that he was infinitely gentle, but she also said that the person "who is sketched by him, or photographed...by his pencil [sic] participates with Bellmer in the abomination of herself. Impossible for me, to render him greater praise." Her ability to consent to be manipulated in this way is drawn into question as she suffered from schizophrenia, was frequently institutionalized, and later committed suicide.

Gelatin silver prints & gouache on masonite - Galerie Berinson, Berlin


A Sade

Bellmer shared the Surrealist fascination for the writings of the Marquis de Sade, the notorious French writer infamous for his obscene, pornographic stories. Sex, power, and subconscious desire were all core to Bellmer's work. These late drawings are technically brilliant and beautifully executed, but the content is nonetheless highly disturbing. His earlier experiments in reforming the body seem to reach their peak here, the body as such is just a series of apertures open for penetration. There is a complete depersonalisation of the orifices, and as such the work appears cold rather than erotic. Speaking of these works, Bellmer said: "I admire de Sade very much, especially his idea that violence towards the loved one can tell us more about the anatomy of desire than the simple act of love." For Bellmer, anatomy was desire, rather than the representation of it.

Print Book - 1961

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"Hans Bellmer Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 07 May 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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