Hans Bellmer

Portrait of Jean Arp


Not on display

Hans Bellmer 1902–1975
Original title
Portrait de Jean Arp
Graphite on paper
Support: 482 × 320 mm
frame: 650 × 470 × 20 mm
Presented by Mr and Mrs Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

Catalogue entry

T05008 Portrait of Jean Arp 1957

Black chalk on grey laid paper 482 × 320 (19 × 12 5/8); watermarks ‘Ingres’ and ‘Canson & Mo[ntgolfier]’
Inscribed ‘Bellmer’ b.r.
Presented by Mr and Mrs Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987
Prov: Bought from the artist by Galerie André François Petit, Paris by whom sold to Mr Lewin c.1975–6
Exh: Bellmer: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, April–June 1967, Galerie Wolfgang Ketterer, Munich, July–Sept. 1967 (102, repr. p.12 as ‘Portrait Hans Arp III’)
Lit: Peter Webb and Robert Short, Hans Bellmer, London 1985, p.221; Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1987–8, 1988, p.17, repr.

This is a portrait of Jean (or, as he was originally known, Hans) Arp, a pioneer of abstract art who was closely associated with the Dada and Surrealist movements. Hans Bellmer first learnt of Arp's work towards the end of the First World War when, as a teenager living in Katowice in Silesia, he managed to obtain some Dada periodicals. However, he met Arp only when he moved to Paris in 1938 and began to mix with the Surrealist group of artists and writers. Following the Second World War Bellmer lived a life of poverty and relative isolation, though he continued to receive the support of the Surrealists who admired his erotic drawings, photographs and constructions of ‘poupées’, or dolls. In the 1950s he renewed his acquaintanceship with Arp, and executed a number of portraits of him and of other leading artists of the day. In 1958 Arp was on the committee (along with other figures associated with the Surrealist movement, including Matta, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Roland Penrose and Marcel Duchamp) which awarded Bellmer the William and Noma Copley Foundation prize for ‘outstanding ability and unusual promise’.

During the Second World War Bellmer had been in desperate financial straits, and had executed pencil and oil portraits of local notables in the Castres region in the south of France as a means of earning money. Though the need to support himself through commissions and sales remained an important factor in his work as a portraitist after the war, he also liked the challenge of making portraits, and saw them as a significant part of his work as an artist. On a visit to Berlin in 1954 he wrote in a letter to friends, ‘Since my arrival I have finished the portrait of the actor [Ernst] Schröder, who is absolutely delighted. I count on having other portraits to do pretty soon. I want to have an exhibition of portraits in the autumn’ (quoted by Webb, p.218). In fact, he had to wait until the following year for this exhibition, which took place at the Galerie Jean-Jacques Pauvert in Paris, and included portraits of Max Ernst, Joë Bousquet, Ernst Schröder, Will Grohmann, André Breton, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara and Unica Zürn. In the preface to the catalogue, the poet and playwright Jean Cocteau commented on what he saw as the artist's inner turmoil revealed in these portraits:

Just as the light of the sun comes from decomposition, so the portraits of Bellmer are born in a soul which is consuming itself. This results in a blotting-paper of tears, a perspiration of linen, a nuclear-war between the figurative and the non-figurative, between external resemblance and internal resemblance, between our difficulty in being and the absurd magnificence of dreaming, our delicious human slime.

(Webb and Short 1985, p.221)

In 1957 Bellmer executed portraits not only of Arp but also of other leading artists and writers of the day, including Wilfredo Lam, Henri Michaux, Victor Brauner, Albert Camus, Jehan Mayoux and Gaston Bachelard. The art historian Peter Webb has written of these works that together they ‘form a marvellous pantheon of the creative people of his time’ (ibid.); and it seems likely that Bellmer himself saw these portraits, generally pencil or charcoal drawings, as a coherent body of works.

T05008 is one of several studies by Bellmer of Arp. They include an oil and pencil double portrait showing a frontal and three-quarter view, looking to the left (repr. Kestner-Gesellschaft, exh. cat., 1967, no.100, as ‘Portrait Hans Arp I’), another oil and pencil three-quarter view of the face, also looking to the left (repr.ibid., no.101, as ‘Portrait Hans Arp II’), a pencil full face portrait (repr. Sarane Alexandrian, Hans Bellmer, New York 1975, p.16), and another pencil three-quarter view, again looking to the left (repr. André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Le Trésor cruel de Hans Bellmer, Paris 1980, p.31, as ‘Portrait de Jean Arp’). No details are known of the circumstances surrounding the portraits, but as Bellmer was a swift draughtsman it is possible that the series was completed in one or two sittings. Bellmer himself wrote in a letter of 1955 to Tzara, when asking him to arrange for him to draw Picasso's portrait, ‘I draw quickly, an hour per sitting’ (quoted by Webb, p.221).

Faintly drawn, T05008 has a sketch-like, tentative quality, unusual in Bellmer's portraits of this period. However, it shows the artist's characteristic reliance on line alone to suggest modelling (he was a great admirer of the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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