Hans Bellmer

The Doll


Hans Bellmer 1902–1975
Original title
La Poupée
Photographs, black and white, and ink on paper
Support: 185 × 752 mm
frame: 211 × 781 × 18 mm
Presented anonymously through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1978

Display caption

Bellmer’s fetishistic Doll sculptures were partly inspired by Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which the hero falls in love with a mechanical doll. Photographs of the doll were published in 1934 in the surrealist journal Minotaure. With their explorations of voyeurism and sadism, the photographs soon became as important as the sculpture itself. This set of hand-coloured images were taken at the same time as (and closely resemble) those which Bellmer published as The Games of the Doll, accompanied by fourteen short prose poems by the surrealist poet Paul Eluard.

Gallery label, December 2013

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Catalogue entry

Hans Bellmer 1902-1975

T02305 La Poupée (The Doll) c.1937-8

Inscribed 'A GERMAINE' and 'Avec les plus jolies [?] | salutations de | Hans | Bellmer.' on left-hand sheet
Nine photographs tinted with coloured inks, eight 20 7/8 x 20 7/8 (53 x 53) and one 28 x 20 7/8 (71 x 53), plus a sheet of pink paper 31 1/2 x 20 1/2 (80 x 52) with a dedication in pencil and a greetings stick-on label with a printed flower; all these mounted together in a horizontal window mount
Presented anonymously through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1978
Prov: Mme Germaine Hugnet, Paris (gift from the artist); private collector/dealer, Paris; private collector, London
Exh: [?Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Beaux-Arts, Paris, January-February 1938 (13) as 'La Poupée (1933-1937), photographies'; Galerie Robert, Amsterdam, spring 1938 (7)]; Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, London, January-March 1978 (12.7, second photograph from left repr.)
Lit: Hans Bellmer, Les Jeux de la Poupée (Paris 1949) Alain Jouffroy, Hans Bellmer (Chicago n.d.), n.p.; Hans Bellmer, Die Puppe (Berlin 1962), pp.49-119, 188-9; exh. catalogue Hans Bellmer, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Paris, November 1971-January 1972, p.92

Bellmer made his first doll in 1933 (see the note on T01157) and took a series of photographs of it in various states of dismemberment and rearrangement, and 'with the necessary background of vice and enchantment', which was first published as a book Die Puppe in Karlsruhe in 1934, with a foreword by himself. The photographs were taken by Bellmer, while the settings were constructed by his brother.

His second series of photographs was based on the elements of the central sphere, sometimes with a head and sometimes with two pairs of legs, and was completed in December 1937. Some of the photographs were taken out of doors in the garden of his father's house. Bellmer took the photographs with him when he settled in Paris in 1938 and preparations were made for their publication. The foreword, which was originally written in German, was translated into French in 1938 with the help of Georges Hugnet, while the idea of hand-colouring the photographs (which had not been done in the case of the first series) was suggested by Paul Eluard. Eluard also wrote fourteen short prose poems in the winter of 1938-9 to accompany the photographs. However in the end the book was not published until after the war, in 1949, when it was brought out by Heinz Berggruen, in a very limited edition, as Les Jeux de la Poupée.

The book consists of a foreword by Bellmer followed by fifteen coloured photographs, of which fourteen (numbered from I, II onwards) have texts by Eluard. The set of photographs now owned by the Tate comes from the same series and is closely related but not identical.

Only three of the photographs appear to have been made from the same negatives as those used for the book and even they are slightly different in their colouring; one of the images is not to be found in the book at all; and the others are variants of photographs in the book, evidently taken at the same time but with changes in the arrangement of the forms, different viewpoints and so on. Thus reading from left to right:

1. The photograph on the extreme left contains most of the same elements as pl.1, but differently arranged. It lacks the green bead and the splash of liquid on the floor which appear in the photograph in the book, but includes a further somewhat ear-shaped form.

2. This is very similar to pl.V and seems to be from the same negative. The colouring is almost identical, except that the doll's left breast is greenish instead of orange.

3. From the same negative as pl.II, and similar but not identical in colour.

4. Closely related to pl.XIV, but the lighting and shadows are slightly different. There are also various differences in colour.

5. This image does not appear in the book.

6. This contains the same elements as pl.XIII but differently arranged. The latter also has a carpet beater in the foreground but horizontal (from the ( left) instead of vertical; the legs are set closer together and the doll is seen more or less from the side; and the setting is also viewed from a different angle.

7. Probably from the same negative as pl.IX, but showing a little more on the right. The colouring of the photograph in the book is similar but bluer.

8. This appears to show the doll in the same pose as pl.VI, but viewed from a completely different angle and without a figure of a man on the left. The colouring bears little relationship.

9. This photograph (the one on the extreme right) is related to pl.VII which is also a night effect, but shows the doll with the limbs differently arranged, as if she was sitting in the tree instead of standing.

The Tate's set of photographs was hand-coloured by Bellmer and put together specially for Germaine, the first wife of the writer Georges Hugnet, possibly in late 1937 or the very beginning of 1938 as it may have been exhibited at the Galerie Beaux-Arts in January-February 1938. (Georges Hugnet was one of the organisers of the revised version of this exhibition shown at the Galerie Robert in Amsterdam shortly afterwards). Mme Germaine Hugnet writes (letter of 3 August 1979) that she and her husband had various photographs in the late 1930s of Bellmer's doll which Bellmer had given them. One day, Georges Hugnet, who had a framing and book binding workshop at that period, had the idea of choosing some and mounting them together in the way they are now. The selection and arrangement was done by him, and is unique.

Though the book was not officially published until 1949 there are also six or eight copies of a preliminary version made for friends in 1938-9 comprising hand-coloured and black and white photographs by Bellmer and entitled 'La Poupée II'. The photographs, which vary from copy to copy, are mounted like these on pink paper and there is no text.

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.46-7, reproduced p.46

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