Hans Bellmer

The Doll

1936, reconstructed 1965

Not on display

Hans Bellmer 1902–1975
Original title
La Poupée
Painted aluminium on brass base
Object: 635 × 307 × 305 mm. 51kg
Purchased 1969

Display caption

In the early 1930s, Bellmer created an almost life-sized figure of a young girl, which André Breton and Paul Eluard described as ‘the first and only Surrealist object with a universal, provocative power’. He recreated the doll in a variety of forms. This version makes the element of sexual fantasy explicit by reducing her to two sets of hips. It also derives from Bellmer’s desire to maximise the articulation of this substitute body/object through the use of ball joints. Indeed, this work was originally known as Ball Joint, and was exhibited in the 1936 Surrealist exhibition of objects held in Paris.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Hans Bellmer 1902-1975

T01157 La Poupée (The Doll) 1936/1965

Inscribed 'Bellmer | 0/8' on side of base
Painted aluminium on brass base, 18 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 9 (46.5 x 26 x 22.5) excluding base; overall height 25 5/8 (64.5)
Purchased from Mrs Patricia Withofs (Grant-in-Aid) 1969
Prov: With Galerie A.F. Petit, Paris; with Obelisk Gallery, London, 1967; Mrs Patricia Withofs, London
Exh: Bellmer, Galerie D. Benador, Geneva, June 1966 (1, repr.); The Obsessive Image 1960-1968, ICA, London, April-May 1968 (7, repr.)
Lit: Alain Jouffroy, Hans Bellmer (Chicago n.d.), n.p.; Sarane Alexandrian, Surrealist Art (London 1970), pp.117-18, repr. p.121 in colour
Repr: Simon Wilson, The Surrealists (London 1974), pl.7

Bellmer's dolls grew out of his obsession with his adolescent cousin Ursula, who, accompanied by her mother, had come to live with him and his wife in Karlsruhe. Seeking to make creative use of this obsession, Bellmer finally decided in 1933: 'I shall construct an artificial girl whose anatomy will make it possible to recreate physically the dizzy heights of passion and to do so to the extent of inventing new desires' (quoted in the catalogue of his exhibition at CNAC, Paris, 1971-2, p.91). He began to make his first doll in the summer of 1933 after seeing a performance of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, in which one of the characters is a doll that comes to life, and in 1934 published a book Die Puppe containing a series of photographs of the doll in various positions and states of dismemberment, together with a text written by himself. Although the doll was a revelation to him and became a great inspiration for erotic fantasy, he found that he was dissatisfied by the naturalism of its torso and the immobility of the waist.

Alain Jouffroy relates that the structure of this later doll was inspired by Bellmer's discovery in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin of two dolls (a naked man and woman) dating from the time of Durer. 'They were articulated around a sphere and were mobile down to their toes. This sphere, the idea of which had been latent in him, was the solution he had been seeking. It enabled the Doll to go beyond the narrow limits of naturalistic representation. ... Using the sphere as a central object, he immediately imagined a creature with two pairs of legs'. When it was finished, it was shown in Paris in the Exposition Surréaliste d'Objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton in May 1936 under the title 'Jointure de Boules' and was reproduced in Minotaure, No.8, 1936, p.9 (again as 'Jointure de Boules') and in Cahiers d'Art, 1936, p.54 (as 'Poupée'), becoming straightaway one of the most famous Surrealist objects.

The original is in painted wood. The Galerie A.F. Petit had it cast in aluminium in 1965 in an edition of eight, plus one artist's copy (which is the work purchased by the Tate). Six of these casts are painted, the other three are unpainted. There is also a unique cast (painted) mounted lying horizontally on a felt-covered base.

(The information about the various casts was provided by the Galerie André François Petit).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.45-6, reproduced p.45

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