Hans Bellmer La Poupée, Berlin
Medium Silver print
Photo Date 1935 Print Date 1935-38
Dimensions 19 x 19 in. (483 x 483 mm)
Photo Country Germany
Photographer Country Poland
Contact Alex Novak and Marthe Smith
About This Image
To our knowledge this is the only known vintage print of this size (and this early). It is uncolored.
See: Hans Bellmer. pl.12 of "Les Jeux de la poupée" (The Games of the Doll). Paris, Les Editions premières, 1949; there a small hand-colored black-and-white photograph.
Sue Taylor, Department of Art History, The University of Chicago, writes about this image: "In one image, for example, the doll is a tragic amputee, armless and tied on a shadowy stairway with frayed twine. With a second (reversed) pelvis substituting for its chest, the doll is given buttocks for breasts, and these seem incongruously large, considering the undeveloped pudenda and the juvenile hair-bow. The doll's left leg is bound at the knee, while the right thigh ends abruptly in midair, exposing a hollow core. All is passive, inert: one hand lies limply against the banister, and a blank, unseeing eye suggests a loss of consciousness.
"Who, one wonders, is responsible for the naked and abject condition of the doll? If child abuse seems to be the implied subject of this image and others in Bellmer's oeuvre, additional levels of interpretation have also been put forward. Notably, Therese Lichtenstein, in "The Psychological and Political Implications of Hans Bellmer's Dolls in the Cultural and Social Context of Germany and France in the 1930s" (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1991), saw the mutated bodies of the dolls opposing the whole and healthy Aryan bodies fantasized in Nazi propaganda, while Sidra Stich, in University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art, exh. cat. (New York, 1990), p.54, contended that their corporeal fragmentation reflects the social reality of ubiquitous amputees with their prosthetic limbs seen throughout Europe in the wake of World War I. Those amputees, however, as Maria Tatar reminded us in Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany (Princeton, N.J., 1995), "testified to the brutalization of men's bodies in the theaters of war" (p.12; my emphasis), whereas Bellmer's depicted victims are female. Tatar pondered the possibility that the many representations of sex murders in German art, literature, and film between the wars were in part a kind of fantasized revenge on women, who had escaped the damaging carnal effects of the military experience."
It is possible, but not certain, that the print was included in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (11 June - 4 July 1936) or the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris (January 17 - February 24, 1938). It appears to have been mounted to pink album paper at one point (remnants on verso) and this is consistent with Bellmer's practices in the 1930s. According to Alain Sayag, Bellmer was producing large format black-and-white prints as early as 1935 (Pompidou Center 2006).
Ilustrated: Cahiers d'art, May 1936, no.1 and 2, p.66, which was a special issue edited by Christian Zervos dedicated to the "Objets Surréalistes," exhibition at Charles Ratton's gallery in Paris at the same time.; Les jeux de la poupée,1949; Die puppe, Berlin,1962, p.95; Hans Bellmer, obliques, 1975, p.102; Eluard et ses amis peintres, paris, Centre Pompidou,1982, p.81; Hans Bellmer photographe, paris, Centre Pompidou,1983, p.92; L'Amour Fou, Photography & Surrealism, Washington, D.C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, New York: Abbeville Press, 1985; and Hans Bellmer, anatomie du desir, Centre Pompidou, 2006, p.100.
Hans Bellmer took photographs of the doll in the staircase (second doll) in Berlin, at his family's house during 1935. He took two photographs at the bottom of the staircase. The position of the doll in each is the same. Only the hand placed between the bars is different. He used the hand of the first doll in this picture.
Later Bellmer used a hand-colored version of this image for "Les Jeux de la Poupée" or "The Games of the Doll". This picture illustrated poem number 9 by Paul Eluard. Bellmer gave Eluard the maquette of this book with no text including 12 black and white prints on December 31, 1935. In 1936 he showed his photographs in two surrealist exhibitions: the first one at l'Ateneo de Santa Cruz in Tenerife and the second in London at the New Burlington Galleries. For the Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme at the Galerie des Beaux Arts in 1938, Bellmer showed a series of black and white prints of the second doll.
The large black and white exhibition print of the doll in the staircase here on offer can be dated from between 1935 and 1938. After 1938 the logotype of the Agfa-Brovira paper that this print is made on changed. Also, during the war, Bellmer had a precarious and nomadic existence in the South of France, which didn't allow him to print any of his photographs.
Bellmer's work is in most major museum collections, but few of them have larger works like this one; most simply have the small later photographs that were used in his limited edition books. Just to mention a few of these institutions: Museum of Modern Art NY, Tate Modern, Centre Georges Pompideu, the Chicago Art Institute and Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin.
Bellmer made this photograph of his second Poupée (Doll) circa 1936, and he printed it or had it printed before the end of 1938; the particular make of Agfa photographic paper that is used on this print was discontinued in 1938. It is possible, but not certain, that the print was included in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (11 June - 4 July 1936) or the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris (January 17 - February 24, 1938). It appears to have been mounted to pink album paper at one point, and this is consistent with Bellmer's practices in the 1930s.
Provenance: From Bellmer to Paul Éluard in the later 1930s or early 1940s. (Bellmer also gave Éluard, a unique book with twelve gelatin silver photographs, titled La Poupée Seconde Partie in 1935, and another in 1936 titled Poupée with eleven original photographs, eight of which were hand toned). Éluard gave it to Alain and Jacqueline Trutat, almost certainly between 1946 and 1952. Alain Trutat, was a famous radio personality who founded France Culture, and was extremely close to Éluard. Alain or Jacqueline Trutat sold it to a private individual, France in 1990s. Private individual to private dealer, Paris in 2011 via two intermediaries. Private dealer Paris to Vintage Works, Ltd., Chalfont, PA in 2011. Vintage Works, Ltd. to private collector, Los Angeles, 2011.
It is our opinion that this print was made between 1935-38 and originally gifted in the late 1930s to very early 1940s, and to the best of our actual knowledge that the above provenance is accurate.